UPDATE: Locast has shut down as of September 2, 2021. In a brief statement, Locast said: “As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately.”
If you want to watch broadcast TV but don’t have an antenna, you may have heard about a non-profit service called Locast.
This is a free live streaming TV service for local channels, but its future is in question.
1. What Is Locast?
It provides the channels that you would get with an antenna: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and more.
Locast has been a solution for people who live in areas where an indoor or outdoor antenna won’t pick up local stations.
2. Is Locast Legal?
Locast is being sued by ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC. The major networks claim that the service violates copyright laws.
Locast disputes that claim and has filed a counter-suit.
A court dealt Locast a major setback in August 2021. A federal judge ruled against Locast on its copyright defense, which means the case could go to trial.
Locast said it’s disappointed in the ruling and is exploring future steps.
It emailed users the following explanation:
“As you probably know, the federal district court in the Southern District of New York issued a ruling in the case brought against Locast by the big media companies. The court concluded that by interrupting programming to ask users for donations, and by suspending those interruptions based on whether a user makes contributions, Locast actually was charging a fee, not merely seeking a voluntary contribution. The court then concluded that revenues Locast collects in this manner exceed the cost of operating the service because funds are used to add new markets, rendering Locast ineligible to use the copyright exemption for non-profits (17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5)).”
3. Is Locast Free?
Locast has always operated as a free service, but it accepts donations from users.
Following a court ruling against Locast, the service suspended all programming interruptions to request donations on September 1, 2021.
Previously, donation requests cut off live programming every 15 minutes.
To stop these interruptions, you could give a donation of $5 per month, plus a $0.50 processing fee — so $5.50 total.
Although programming interruptions have now stopped for all users, Locast continues to take donations.
4. Where Can I Watch Locast?
Locast is available in more than 35 cities as of September 2021.
If you go to Locast.org, you’ll see a map of the United States and antennas that represent where the service is available.
- Columbus, Ohio
- Los Angeles
- Madison, Wisconsin
- New York
- Puerto Rico
- Rapid City, South Dakota
- San Francisco
- Scranton, Pennsylvania
- Sioux City, Iowa
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Tampa Bay
- Tri-Cities (TN, KY, VA border)
- Washington, DC
- West Palm Beach
Locast uses geolocation to determine your physical location. If you’re located outside of a market where the service is available, you won’t be able to stream.
5. Is Locast Reliable?
I’ve spent a lot of time streaming Locast since it launched in my city in mid-2020 and haven’t had any major issues.
The picture quality isn’t always the sharpest, but it streams without buffering.
However, one thing I noticed around the start of football season in 2020 was a pop-up that warned about streaming issues when a lot of people were using the service.
Locast told me that it made improvements to the service to meet user demand.
Based on my experience, I’m confident in Locast’s streaming reliability. It has surpassed my expectations for a free or $5 a month streaming service.
That said, I know that I can always sign up for a paid service if there’s an outage.
6. How Does Locast Work?
If you can use an indoor or outdoor antenna, you’ll get a lifetime of over-the-air TV. That’s the ultimate way to watch local channels for free.
But antennas don’t work everywhere — and that’s where Locast comes in.
I think Locast makes a lot of sense for people who use Sling TV, which doesn’t have all of the local stations like YouTube TV and Hulu Live.
But given the legal challenge, I’m afraid Locast may not be around for much longer.