Q. I would like to watch MASN, the TV home of my Washington Nationals, by streaming rather than subscribing to an expensive TV service like Cox or DIRECTV. Is there anyway to do that? — Marty, Fairfax, Virginia. 

Marty, there are two ways to watch MASN online, but I’m not sure you’ll agree they are the least expensive or convenient way to do so. Let me explain.

But first, for those unfamiliar with MASN (the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network), it’s a regional sports channel in the Baltimore/Washington area. MASN, which carries the Washington Nationals as well as the Baltimore Orioles, also airs national college football and basketball games, and some regional ones.

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Unfortunately, the Peter Angelos family, which has controlling ownership of MASN (and the Baltimore Orioles), has been reluctant to offer the streaming rights to the channel.

Fox and the NBC regional sports channels are available in-market on various live streaming services such as DIRECTV Now and Sling TV, as well as some cable and satellite services. But not MASN.

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So how can you watch MASN online?

1. Subscribe to Layer3
Layer3, which offers more than 200 channels online via a dedicated set-top, actually has MASN in its lineup for Washington, D.C. area residents. However, Layer3 is not available in all DC neighborhoods, and even if it is available, program packages start at $75 a month. That’s not exactly the cheap alternative you’re seeking. (If you are interested in finding out if Layer3 is available in your area, click here. )

One more caveat about Layer3. The service’s lineup includes MASN, but not the MASN 2 channel. (Update: Layer3 now has both MASN and MASN 2.)

2.  ‘Cheat’ the System
MASN is available via streaming on the MLB.TV package, which last year cost $109.99 for the entire season of out-of-market games. But, of course, MASN is in your market, not out, so you couldn’t watch the Nationals or O’s on MLB.TV. The games would be blacked out.

However, there is a way for blackout victims to watch the games at home even if the programming disputes are not resolved.

The answer is three little letters: VPN.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a software that you can download that will enable you to use an IP address different from your own. For instance, if you live in Detroit, you could insert an IP address supplied by the VPN company that would say you live in Denmark.

You probably don’t need me to tell you what’s next. If you live in the DC area, you could use your VPN to say you live overseas. Then, you could subscribe to the MLB.TV online package and watch MASN because the the IP address wouldn’t say DC or Baltimore.  (Normally, MLB.TV is required to blackout the in-market game because the regional channel has the exclusive rights. But in this case, MLB.TV wouldn’t know you live in that market.)

The use of a VPN to avoid sports blackouts certainly is an ethical test, and perhaps even a legal one, although it’s never been challenged in court. MLB.TV professes to oppose VPNs, including language buried deep in its terms of use for MLB.com that says anyone who attempts to “circumvent” a MLB.TV blackout restriction could lose his subscription and possibly be “:subject to legal action.”

But the league actually refers to its use in MLB.TV’s FAQ section for its blackout policy. The league explains how a game could be blacked out in a home because of a VPN.

“If you are accessing the Internet through a VPN connection, you might be getting a blackout message because the host IP address for the VPN is within the restricted range of the game that you are trying to access,” the site says. (For example,if your VPN uses a St. Louis IP, you couldn’t watch the Cardinals.)

MLB.TV’s FAQ adds that you should try dismantling the VPN and then see if your out-of-market game is still blacked out. But it doesn’t take the opportunity here to say that VPN use is prohibited, which could be interpreted as a wink and a nod that you can. (More people likely read the plan’s FAQ than the lengthy ‘terms of use.’)

Some fans have speculated that MLB looks the other way because more people will subscribe to MLB.TV, which means more revenue for the league. Considering that MLB.TV has not engaged in a public war on VPN use, as Netflix has, that speculation is not easily dismissed. If the league truly wanted to stop VPNs, it would seem that a more aggressive attack, including highly publicized legal challenges, would be necessary.

After all, many Dodgers fans have publicly admitted to local publications that they are using VPNs to watch their team (which is unavailable in most LA homes due to a carriage dispute between SportsNet LA and the pay TV ops) . The league has not initiated any known legal cases against them. When asked about VPNs by the Los Angeles Times, MLB officials simply pointed to the ‘terms of use’ language and said they didn’t take the violations lightly.

That will hardly stop a die-hard fan who’s desperate to watch his or her team.

Which VPN should you use if you decide to go that route? Unlocator is a popular choice at $4.95 a month and it offers a 14-day free trial. Unlocator can work with various computer platforms and streaming devices such as Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Apple TV. (So, yes, you could watch the games on your television.)

Final note: Comcast has a streaming service called Instant TV. For $18 a month, you can stream your local channels (first month is free). For an additional $35 a month, you can get a News & Sports plan, which the Comcast site says includes regional sports channels. I’ve called Comcast’s customer service department three times to ask about MASN in the DC area and I’ve received three different answers: No, Yes and ‘We think so.’ Yes, they said, ‘we think so.’ (There is also no information on Comcast’s web site about which RSNs are available.)

Based on that, I would not recommend ordering Comcast Instant TV to get (or, I should say, try to get) MASN.

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If you have a question for the TV Answer Man, send it to: swann@tvpredictions.com

— Phillip Swann