4 Things to Know Before You Sign Up for Locast

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If you’ve quit cable TV but still want to watch your local stations without setting up an antenna, Locast may be a solution.

Locast.org is a nonprofit service that streams broadcast TV over the internet for free. It launched in 2018 and has expanded to more than 30 major cities, despite an ongoing legal challenge from ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX.

In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know before you start streaming local stations with this service.

1. How Does Locast Work?

Locast takes an antenna, collects over-the-air signals and streams the channels over the internet to users located in select cities.

To sign up, register at Locast.org by providing an email address and password. Once you confirm your email, you’ll be able to stream using the Locast app or by visiting Locast.org.

The service works with Android TV, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Roku streaming platforms, among others.

Before you can stream from a supported device, the service requires that you enter an activation code. Simply go to locast.org/activate and enter the code that’s displayed on your screen.

Once you’ve finished the initial setup process, you’ll see a live TV guide that looks something like this:

Locast live TV guide
Live TV Guide

From my home market in South Florida, Locast streams ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS and a number of digital subchannels. It’s the same broadcast channels that I get with my Mohu Leaf indoor antenna.

The live TV guide is simple and cannot be customized. It lets you preview the TV schedule up to a week in advance.

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2. Where Is Locast Available?

Locast is not available everywhere. As of March 2021, the service operates in 31 markets. If you’re located outside of a market that Locast serves, you won’t be able to stream.

Here are the cities where the service is available at last check:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Baltimore
  3. Boston
  4. Charlotte
  5. Chicago
  6. Cleveland
  7. Dallas
  8. Denver
  9. Detroit
  10. Houston
  11. Indianapolis
  12. Los Angeles
  13. Madison, Wisconsin
  14. Miami
  15. Minneapolis
  16. New York
  17. Orlando
  18. Philadelphia
  19. Phoenix
  20. Portland
  21. Puerto Rico
  22. Rapid City, South Dakota
  23. Sacramento
  24. San Francisco
  25. Scranton, Pennsylvania
  26. Seattle
  27. Sioux City, Iowa
  28. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  29. Tampa Bay
  30. Washington, D.C.
  31. West Palm Beach

3. Is Locast Really Free?

There is no charge to use Locast, but the streaming TV service relies on individual donations to offset its operating costs.

When you’re streaming for free, the user experience is severely impacted by donation requests. Expect programming to be interrupted every 15 minutes or so with an ask for support.

To eliminate these interruptions, you can donate as little as $5 a month plus a processing fee of 50 cents.

When I tested out Locast, I found the interruptions unbearable and made a donation to stop them. However, most people sit through the donation requests to access the service at no charge.

Locast is not without controversy. The New York Times reported in July 2019 that ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX joined together to sue the nonprofit organization for copyright violations.

Locast has defended itself in a countersuit and alleges the broadcasters colluded against the service, according to CNN.

“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.” – Locast news release, August 2020

Clark.com emailed communications executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX for this article. Only CBS responded to our request, and a spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Locast founder David Goodfriend told me the service will continue to operate normally as the legal drama plays out.

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Final Thought 

If you don’t want to rely on an antenna, Locast offers another way to pick up local channels without cable. But there are several reasons why I still prefer an antenna in most cases:

  1. An indoor antenna costs $40 or less and provides a lifetime of free over-the-air TV. If you live close enough to broadcast towers, an antenna may pick up the same channels as Locast.
  2. Streaming Locast to a TV requires an internet connection and a supported device.
  3. Locast interrupts live TV with donation requests about every 15 minutes, so the free version can be difficult to watch. There are no interruptions with an antenna.

That said, Locast might be a good solution if you can’t get all of your broadcast channels with an antenna. During my month-long test of the service, I experienced no issues with video quality or buffering.

Have you streamed local channels with Locast? Leave a comment below to add to this review!

This article was originally written by Michael Timmermann and published on August 31, 2020.

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