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What You Need to Know About Locast's "Free" Local TV Channel Service

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The Locast app is available on several devices

The Locast app is available on several devices

Locast.org is a non-profit streaming television service that allows users to view live streams of local over-the-air television stations located in many parts of the United States. These TV signals are sourced from antennas in each market served. At the time of writing, Locast offers services in 34 markets and reaches 53% of the US population.

Why Choose Locast?

For many households, the only way to get local channels is through a cable, satellite, or streaming TV service like YouTube TV. However, these options are expensive. They usually offer the major networks CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox, but they don't always offer every local channel serving a particular market. To get all local channels including the major networks, you can use an antenna. But this isn't an option for everyone. Renters or homeowners who must abide by Homeowner Association (HOA) rules may not have the option to place an antenna on their roof. Depending on the area, indoor and outdoor antennas may pick up weak signals.

Locast is a great choice for households that can't use antennas but also don't want to pay expensive cable, satellite, or streaming TV bills. However, while Locast is a not-for-profit and free to use, a donation is required to get uninterrupted service. If users don't make a monthly donation, every 15 minutes the content they are viewing is interrupted and they are returned to the main screen. They then have to navigate back to their channel. To get uninterrupted service, users must pay at least $5 a month and an additional 50 cents processing fee.

If you can't afford to pay, Locast offers a service called Locast Cares.

If you cannot afford to contribute $5 per month but would like the uninterrupted version of Locast, you might qualify for the "Locast Cares" program.

If you don't want to make a donation and don't qualify for Locast Cares, LocalBTV is an alternative to consider. It is a completely free local channel streaming service that comes with a built-in DVR. However, unlike Locast, it doesn't offer the major networks and it's only available in about a dozen markets.

"The free version has 25 or more channels, but when we release our paid premium version you’ll get more than 50 local stations including the major network stations."

-- localbtv.com/faq

LocalBTV: A Possible Alternative to Locast

Locast Features

Individual Profiles - users can create up to 7 profiles on a single Locast account.

Favorites - each profile has the option to tailor their viewing experience with a Favorite channels feature.

Subtitles and Closed Captioning - closed captioning can be turned on or off at any time by clicking on your profile and then clicking "Closed Captioning."

DVR

Locast has many pros but a big con is the lack of a built-in DVR. Services like Stremium, Plex, or Channels (getchannels.com) may provide a potential solution. However, they come with their own costs and they're more complicated than using a built-in DVR.

Where to Get Locast

You can watch Locast directly on your computer by visiting locast.org and creating an account. It's also available on Roku and Amazon Firestick devices, and Locast is built into the channel guide on the Tivo Stream 4K. For mobile devices, you can download the Locast app from the Apple Appstore and from the Google Play Store for Android devices.

The major networks have filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement, but Locast insists its service is completely legal based on a 1976 copyright law:

Any “non-profit organization” could make a “secondary transmission” of a local broadcast signal, provided the non-profit did not receive any “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and either offered the signal for free or for a fee “necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs” of providing the service. 17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5).

-- https://helpcenter.locast.org/portal/en/kb/articles/how-does-locast-org-comply-with-copyright

The major broadcasters claim this exemption was intended to cover over-the-air translator stations. However, Locast was founded in January 2018, but the networks didn't sue until July 2019 after AT&T made a $500,000 donation. They used that donation to claim that Locast is being bankrolled by cable and satellite providers. The timing of the lawsuit may suggest that the broadcasters themselves think Locast has a strong case regarding the “secondary transmission” exemption.

The broadcasters also argue that Locast is a commercial entity. According to a lawyer representing the plaintiffs:

Although Locast calls the amounts it extracts from users ‘donations,’ courts ‘look beyond mere formal labels and consider the substance of the transaction. Here, the substance of the transaction is clear: Locast demands users pay a monthly fee in exchange for uninterrupted services.

-- https://www.fiercevideo.com/video/locast-adds-market-hits-2-7m-users-as-legal-challenge-looms

Locast claims auditors have examined their fundraising method and determined it doesn’t violate their not-for-profit status because users have the option to use the service for free. Locast claims that about 50% of active users don't make a donation. For all users, 90% use the service for free.

Locast also argues that it provides a vital service to local communities. People who can't easily access local channels can use Locast to “stay informed about major storms and hurricanes, health updates, local news, weather, and sports through their local broadcast TV stations.”

The case hasn't yet gone to trial, so until the courts make a final decision, the legal status of Locast is unknown.

Overview of the Lawsuit that Might Shut Down Locast

© 2021 LT Wright

Comments

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on July 11, 2021:

Interesting, I might look into it.

But honestly with Roku built into my television, I get a bunch of free channels.

All I need is wifi.

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