PORTLAND – A nonprofit that streams local broadcast TV for free, over the internet, launched in the Portland area last month.
Locast set up antennas in 31 cities around the country and rebroadcasts local programming online for each of those markets. It’s free, though the organization asks for monthly donations – and will periodically interrupt programming to solicit a donation from those who do not give.
Its Portland lineup features 39 channels, including local ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and PBS affiliates and several other, less prominent channels.
All those broadcasts were already available for free to those with a TV antenna, but many people don’t take the time to set up an antenna or live in places where TV reception is poor. Locast says it serves northern and coastal Oregon and parts of Southwest Washington, including Vancouver, Longview and Kelso.
Locast streams programming directly to web browsers or to apps that run on smartphones or smart TVs. So it’s much like having broadcast TV, but without the rabbit ears or rooftop antenna.
If you’re wondering whether this is legal, so are a lot of other people.
A similar service, from a company called Aereo, launched in 2012. But two years later the Supreme Court ruled in favor of broadcast networks that had sued to shut down the business, arguing that it amounted to copyright infringement.
The commercial networks have sued Locast, too, but the organization argues that an exemption in federal law allows nonprofits to retransmit broadcast TV signals.
Locast offers only broadcast TV channels, no cable networks like AMC, ESPN, Fox News or HBO. A number of streaming services, including YouTube TV and Hulu’s live TV product, also offer the local broadcast stations. But they charge a hefty monthly subscription fee.
Comcast and other cable TV operators also offer the local broadcast stations, generally at a much lower price than for subscriptions to a full slate of cable channels.