Q. I want to get rid of my cable provider, but I don’t want to miss my local channels. I would get an antenna, but it won’t work where I live, a rural county in Maryland. I’ve heard of Locast, but a friend tells me that it’s been declared illegal to watch. Is that true? I don’t want to watch it if it’s illegal. — Maddy, Prince Frederick, Maryland.
Maddy, as you may know, Locast is a new, free service that delivers local channels over the Internet in 13 markets, which represents roughly 31 percent of U.S. population. (The markets are: New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Sioux Falls, Denver, Los Angeles, Rapid City, San Francisco, and Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Your local channels would be available in the Baltimore or Washington markets.)
You download the Locast app on a computer, tablet or Smart TV device such as Roku, provide a name and e-mail address, and suddenly you are watching all your local channels. I can’t vouch for the reliability of the signals. I have used Locast a few times and found it to be a bit inconsistent. But it’s free so you can’t beat that.
However, you ask if it’s legal to watch. The answer is yes. It’s absolutely legal to watch.
I suspect what your friend is referring to is a lawsuit just filed by the four broadcast networks (CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC) that aims to declare the service to be illegal. The networks claim that Locast is violating their copyright by transmitting their signals without their permission. In 2014, the networks won a similar lawsuit against Aereo, which sold their signals without authorization.
Locast counters that it’s different from Aereo because it’s a non-profit service (it asks users for donations) which should exempt it from the Copyright Act.
But the networks note that AT&T has invested $500,000 in Locast. That’s a sore point with the networks, particularly CBS which is now involved in a carriage dispute with AT&T’s TV services (U-verse, DIRECTV, DIRECTV Now).
They contend that Locast is a for-profit company in disguise because it plans to generate revenue from pay TV providers who want more leverage in their battles with the networks. If the providers’ subscribers can watch Locast for free, the networks might have to reduce their fees.
Since the lawsuit was just filed this week, it’s unclear when it will be resolved. So until then, Maddie, Locast is free and legal. And you can watch it anytime you want.
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— Phillip Swann