CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — One Internet company announces: "The future of TV is here."
The other calls its service HABU-TV or "Hook a Brother Up."
Both offer at least 225 stateside television programs over the Internet, allowing customers in mainland Japan and Okinawa to watch live U.S. programming via a broadband Internet connection.
"It’s revolutionary," said Lee Staley, systems operation manager for Sunny-Net, which began offering Internet protocol television, called IPTV, several weeks ago.
But that same technology is raising other legal concerns, according to experts in the States.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, which has been following the emerging technology — the capability of viewing remotely over the Internet, called place-shifting — could sidestep what is known as "proximity control."
Proximity control enables movie studios to license distribution rights to certain locations and is the key to major league sports, like the National Football league, which geographically packages rights to broadcast its games. It also gives local broadcasters exclusive geographical rights to air network programs.
"As long as you have an Internet connection we can provide live stateside TV programming wherever you are," Staley said. "And you can watch it at home or take it with you. If you’re TDY to Germany, use your laptop to keep in touch with news and sports and your favorite shows from home."
The availability of IPTV on Okinawa hasn’t gone unnoticed by Mediatti Broadband Communications, which provides cable television services to the island’s military bases. In 2006, Mediatti was forced by contractual disputes to drop HBO, Cinemax and seven other channels. The problems were mainly rebroadcast issues; Mediatti was recording its non-AFN programming in the United States and playing it back for its customers at a later date.
"This is a gray area that the cable industry is starting to take a hard look at," said Blake Williams, president and general manager of Mediatti. "Slingbox has been accepted, because it is just allowing the customer to access his cable programming from another location. But here you have an Internet provider charging fees for the service. They’ve become the provider."
"We’ve looked into all this, and we’re confident there are no legal problems," Staley said.
Defenders of IPTV say viewing programming over a Slingbox or similar technology is not unlike taping your favorite show to view later.
The local Internet companies are not violating any Japanese laws, said Takeshi Kinjo, a spokesman for the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications on Okinawa.
"TV programs that are broadcast outside Japan are not subject to control under the domestic broadcasting law," he said.
Sunny-Net, based on Okinawa with mainland Japan offices in Sasebo and Iwakuni, offers its 225 channels, including 32 premium movie channels, for $130 a month. Its rival, Okinawa-based Vision One, offers a similar package of 250 channels, for $189 per month.
Both companies stream the video from Time-Warner cable service in Milwaukee.
The packages include more than 90 standard broadcast channels, 30-plus premium movie channels — including 30 HBO and Showtime offerings — and more than 45 digital music channels that offer CD-quality audio.
Both companies also offer 100 hours of DVR, allowing customers to watch their favorite programs at more convenient times.
Both companies offer demos of the system, so customers can see for themselves.
"We’re getting lots of calls," said Vision One’s Ethan Pruitt. "A lot of people are coming in and looking at the demo, and they’re excited about the quality. But what’s putting people off is the price. We’re trying to get the price down."
The set-up fees are $150 for Vision One and $120 for Sunny-net. To encourage new customers, Sunny-Net is providing two months of free Internet service as part of the package.
"The cost seems high, but look at what you get," Staley said. "There are more than 30 premium movie channels, including HBO and Showtime, and a wide range of high-definition channels. So, it’s not much different than getting a satellite TV for the basic price and then tacking on extra yen for premium movie and sports channels."
Pruitt said the quality of the video on the customer’s end depends on their computers.
"On most computers, tweaking the settings on the software can improve the picture quality," he said. "They shouldn’t have too many problems unless the computer they are using is really old."
Both companies are looking into ways to improve their services. Sunny-net is looking into hooking up with a Japanese company to offer Japanese programming.
"That’d be great for an Okinawan married to a Marine who is assigned to a base in the States," Staley said. "His wife could keep up on her favorite Japanese shows."