Locast expands to two more television markets

(Logo: Locast, Graphic: The Desk)

Free streaming television service Locast rolled out to viewers in two new local broadcast markets this week, bringing the total number of metropolitan areas served to 25.

The service now offers local ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, PBS and other broadcast stations to residents who live in Indianapolis and Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Scranton launch also includes stations that broadcast from neighboring Wilkes Barre and Hazleton, the company said.

The dual moves put Locast’s free television service in front of 4 million people between both markets. The markets join several other metropolitan areas, including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Tampa Bay where Locast is offered.

Launched in 2018, Locast offers free online access to local broadcast television stations that would normally be received with an antenna. The company says its services can be helpful to residents who live in dwellings or parts of a television market where receiving over-the-air signals is difficult due to terrain or other obstacles.

The service has stoked the ire of broadcast network operators who say Locast is distributing their programming and affiliate signals without entering into the same re-transmission agreements as cable, satellite and streaming Internet providers. Last year, a consortium of broadcasters sued Locast in federal court, saying the service violates their copyright protections. ABC parent company Disney, NBC parent company Comcast, ViacomCBS and Fox Corporation are parties in the lawsuit.

But Locast says it is complying with the U.S. Copyright code because it operates as a not-for-profit translator of digital television services. The company points to an exception in the U.S. Copyright Act that says not-for-profits can distribute broadcast signals without first seeking commercial agreements with television stations or networks. (Locast filed a counter-suit alleging the major broadcasters were engaging in unfair competition.)

The law was intended to grant protection to not-for-profit entities like colleges, local governments or community organizations who established broadcast translators to help provide signal coverage of stations in hard-to-reach areas. But the law never specifically required these entities to establish broadcast translators, and Locast is leveraging this omission to assert their right to operate the service.

Locast doesn’t charge viewers to streaming broadcast stations in the 25 markets where it operates. Instead, it asks customers to make donations to help cover the cost of keeping the service active. Customers who don’t make a regular donation are repeatedly asked to do so when they watch programming via Locast.

The service has found support from some traditional pay television companies who have offered Locast through their Internet-based hardware as a way to continue providing local channels when their re-transmission agreements lapse. Last year, AT&T made a $500,000 donation to Locast and agreed to distribute its app on compatible AT&T TV and DirecTV hardware. Dish Network followed suit, making Locast available on its Hopper TV hardware so that customers could access local and fringe broadcast networks that aren’t normally available on the satellite service.