Q. I am one of the many, many people who are sitting here without my favorite local channel, channel 9 here in the Washington DC area, and I need my channel back now on DIRECTV. I read about this free thing called Locast where I could get my local channels. Is it for real? Is it even legal? — Stella, Reston, Virginia. 

Stella, I feel your pain. Millions of satellite TV subscribers now are missing their favorite local channels due to separate fee fights involving DIRECTV and Dish. While I believe the DIRECTV dispute could end this week, there’s no guarantee both carriage battles won’t go on for weeks or longer.

Locast is one of several ways you can continue watching a local channel even if your satellite service doesn’t carry it. It’s a free service that delivers local channels over the Internet in 25 markets, which represent roughly 45.6 percent of U.S.  The markets include Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, West Palm Beach, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Tampa, Denver, Scranton, Los Angeles, Rapid City, Indianapolis, San Francisco, Miami, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Puerto Rico, Seattle, and Baltimore and Washington, D.C. (Stella, 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.

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It’s sounds like a great deal. But for many satellite subscribers who don’t have access to high-speed Internet service, Locast is a no-go. Plus, it’s only available in those 25 markets. For example, if you lived in Milwaukee or Jacksonville or Las Vegas (and so on), you couldn’t get Locast.

Locast also does not always deliver a reliable picture. It’s the Internet, folks. Streaming is still a work in progress. But it’s free so you can’t complain too much, right?

As for Locast’s legality, the our major broadcast networks (CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC) say no. They have filed a lawsuit 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 has filed a counter lawsuit claiming 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.

The legal battle is still pending, and it’s unclear when it will be resolved. So until then, Locast is legal.

Stella, you might want to check out Locast. And if it doesn’t work to your satisfaction, I would suggest an antenna, or CBS All Access to replace a blacked out local CBS station.

Hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann