If you want to watch broadcast TV but don’t have an antenna, you need to know about a non-profit service called Locast.
This is a free live streaming TV service for local channels, but there’s a catch.
In this article and the video below, I’ll share everything you need to know before you sign up for Locast. Let’s get started!
1. What Is Locast?
Locast.org is a non-profit live TV streaming service. It launched in 2018 and has more than two million registered users, according to a spokesperson.
Locast puts up antennas in select cities, collects over-the-air signals and then streams them over the internet for your viewing pleasure.
It provides the channels that you would get with an antenna: ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and more.
I see Locast as a solution for people who live in areas where an indoor or outdoor antenna won’t pick up local stations.
2. How Does Locast Work?
If you’ve tried a live TV streaming service like YouTube TV, Hulu Live or Sling TV in the past, you’ll be able to figure out Locast quickly. It’s very simple and easy to use.
To start streaming TV, follow these steps:
- Register at Locast.org
- Verify your email address
- Enter an activation code
With Locast, you’ll be able to stream on your phone, computer or to a TV with a connected device like a Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV or Google Chromecast.
Locust features a live guide, but there is no DVR or on-demand section.
When you find something that you want to watch, select it from the live guide and click the “Watch Now” button. The stream will start within a second or two.
You can stream Locast on up to four devices at the same time.
UPDATE: In June 2021, Locast added several new features. You can now have up to seven user profiles on a single account, favorite channels for easier navigation and activate closed captioning for subtitles.
3. Is Locast Free?
Locast is technically free, but the user experience is better if you make a monthly donation.
When you’re streaming the free version of Locast, a donation request will cut off live programming every 15 minutes and take you back to the live guide.
To stop these interruptions, you can give a donation of $5 per month, plus a $0.50 processing fee — so $5.50 total.
From my testing, the ads are highly disruptive and the donation is worth it.
But if you only plan to stream broadcast TV occasionally, you may not be bothered by the donation requests all that much.
As a non-profit, Locast relies on donations to offset operating costs and fund its expansion.
4. Where Can I Watch Locast?
Locast is available in more than 30 cities as of July 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 was a pop-up that warned about streaming issues when a lot of people were using the service.
I don’t remember the exact phrasing. If you saw this message, leave a comment below.
When I reached out to Locast about this issue, I wanted to know if the streaming service would be able to meet the Big Game test.
Here’s the reply I got:
“Over the last six months, Locast has implemented continuous improvements to expand our ability to scale dynamically with user demand, and as a result, we don’t anticipate any streaming issues during the upcoming playoff games and Super Bowl.”Locast spokesperson
Based on my experience, I’m confident in Locast’s 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. 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.
When I spoke by phone with Locast founder David Goodfriend, he told me the service is operating legally under copyright law.
Here’s a quote from a news release that Locast put out in 2020:
Locast operates under the Copyright Act of 1976 that allows nonprofit translator services to rebroadcast local stations without receiving a copyright license from the broadcaster. The federal statute (17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5)) states that a nonprofit organization may retransmit a local broadcast signal and collect a fee to cover the cost of operations. Locast asks viewers to donate as little as $5 per month to help cover operating costs. The donation is voluntary and not required.
I’ve also reached out to all of the major networks. CBS is the only network that responded, and a company spokesperson gave me a “no comment.”
COVID has delayed the lawsuit, which was filed in 2019. It could go to trial in 2021.
In the meantime, Locast says that it plans to continue to operate normally and expand to new cities while the legal process plays out.
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.
Even with the $5.50 a month donation, I think it’s worth it for people who watch a lot of broadcast TV.
Think about it this way:
- Some cable TV companies charge a broadcast TV fee that’s up to $15 a month or $180 a year.
- With a $5.50 a month donation for Locast, it’s only $66 a year.
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.
If you’ve tried out the service, let me know what you think about it in the comments below!