With everything going digital and so many people cutting the cable cord, the one area that can be tricky for cable-free homes to access is local broadcasting of network TV. There are several options for watching local broadcast networks, of course, from setting up your own antenna to finding a live TV streaming service that also does local channels. But another option is slowly making inroads across the country, Locast—and it’s free.
What Is Locast
Locast.org was a non-profit public service aimed at bringing live, local channels to home viewers via the Internet. Launched in January 2018, Locast (an amalgamation of “local” “broadcast”) uses digital translators, from their own towers installed in key cities, to pick up local television broadcasts and transmit them digitally. The towers work like traditional translators that were used to boost local signals to a wider region when a primary broadcaster’s signal was too weak, thus ensuring that the whole community could access local news, sports, and regional programming.
Currently, the site is accessible in cities where Locast has established towers. According to the website, that means it is currently reaching 52% of the U.S. households or just over 168 million people. While it is free, the site urges donations to help support the service and build more towers, and thus occasionally donation ads will briefly interrupt broadcasting.
Founder David Goodfriend believes that local television should be free as it used to be. But with more and more houses not having or using an antenna to pick up local broadcasts, viewers are often dependent on cable conglomerates negotiating packages with local distributors or finding a streaming service like YouTube TV or Sling that carries your local channels as part of a live TV package.
Is Locast Legal
This seems to be the big question many people have. As of right now, no legal charges have been brought up against the service. Goodfriend is an attorney with experience in media law, having worked previously as an executive at the Dish Network and as a legal advisor to an FCC commissioner. He is testing theory that as a non-profit, Locast has the right to rebroadcast without paying a transmission fee, as long as there is no commercial profit to be made. (A similar company, Aereo, was shut down for selling a similar service, and charged with violation of copyright law.) Locast was launched in part by the Sports Fans Coalition, a non-profit dedicated to making local sports available to local audiences.
Some larger companies are even in support of Locast. AT&T donated to the company in order to add the Locast app to some of its services. This isn’t surprising given the issues that the conglomerate has had with fee negotiations in several regions, causing local channels to go dark for some subscribers. This partnership will give them more flexibility in how they offer local channels.
Where is Locast Available?
Update: On September 1st, Locast lost a significant battle in court against the major broadcast networks. The Networks argued Locast "must secure the consent of the broadcasters to retransmit the broadcast signals." Locast defense claimed they qualified for a copyright-law exemption available to nonprofits. US District Court for the Southern District of New York found that Locast is not eligible for an exemption because it uses donations from viewers to fund its expansion into new TV markets. In response to the court loss, Locast said it was suspending its TV service on 9/2/2021.
How to get Locast
It is easy to get started, viewers just go to Locast.org and enter your address, or the site also uses a geolocator. This helps to enforce only local use in the regions with a tower, although there are some technical hitches. Living in Baltimore, we have a Locast tower, so I checked it out. Via Safari, the automatic locater kept saying I didn’t have access in my region. However, when I tested the address via Chrome, it was all good and streaming was easy. The site has a pretty straightforward customer service contact area as well if you’re having issues.
In areas that can get it, Locast is available to stream online, or through the app on mobile devices, as well as on televisions through Apple TV, Android TV, Roku, FireTV, AirPlay, or Google Cast
What does Locast Provide?
The service is pretty straightforward. In regions that have Locast towers, you can access all the local broadcast networks. In Baltimore, for example, we get ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW, My 24 (former WB), and the local PBS broadcast—the last one is particularly helpful, as trying to get a live TV digital service that picks up the local public television station is difficult.
Locast doesn’t have many bells and whistles, it is really just a rebroadcast. There is no on-demand, recording, ability to rewind or fast forward, and TV is broadcast directly as it comes, commercials and all.
It will be interesting to see how the service grows and develops over time—and if the big boys keep ignoring it.