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AT&T’s End Run Around Costly Local TV: Donate $500k to Locast and Add It to Lineup

Phillip Dampier June 27, 2019 AT&T, Competition, Consumer News, Locast, Online Video No Comments

AT&T today announced it was donating $500,000 to the non-profit group behind Locast, the online streaming service offering free access to local TV stations in more than a dozen U.S. cities.

AT&T’s altruism is a thumb in the eye of high-cost retransmission consent agreements with the corporate owners of local free over the air television stations. AT&T added Locast’s app to U-verse and DirecTV receivers at the end of May, giving subscribers a quick and easy way to access over the air stations if one or more are “blacked out” over a contract renewal dispute. AT&T also continues to offer antennas to customers that integrate with both services’ electronic program guides so subscribers can quickly access their favorite channels.

The Sports Fan Coalition, the group behind Locast, will use the money to further expand its service into other cities. At present, Locast is available to almost one-third of American TV homes, amounting to more than 32 million potential viewers. But the service has a very long way to go to stream local stations from all 210 U.S. TV markets.

AT&T will likely use Locast as a leveraging tool when negotiations become heated, letting TV station owners know they can simply point customers to Locast to continue watching stations. AT&T cannot legally redistribute Locast TV streams to customers without running afoul of copyright law, but it can provide customers with access to the independent Locast app and the internet connectivity that allows that app to function. AT&T does not currently plan to drop local stations already on the lineup in favor of pointing customers to Locast. But it will let customers know that blacked out stations are still available to customers through the Locast app.

Locast Now Offering Free Over the Air Channels in Los Angeles, San Francisco & More

Phillip Dampier June 24, 2019 Competition, Consumer News, Locast, Online Video No Comments

Locast, the not-for-profit cooperative that has successfully streamed local, over the air stations without running afoul of copyright law and attorneys, has announced a big expansion into the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sioux Falls and Rapid City (South Dakota).

The free, donation-supported service now covers (in addition to the aforementioned) New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, and Denver.

In each city, Locast streams all the major network stations, almost all independents, some low power outlets, and a host of digital sub-channels featuring digital multicast networks like MeTV, Grit, Comet, and many others. It skips home shopping outlets and some minority language stations. Viewers get a program grid to know what to watch, and picture quality is generally very good to excellent.

Locast has staked its position as a “virtual translator” operation. FCC rules allow independent groups to pick up and rebroadcast television stations without the permission of the stations involved, as long as the operation is not-for-profit:

Before 1976, under two Supreme Court decisions, any company or organization could receive an over-the-air broadcast signal and retransmit it to households in that broadcaster’s market without receiving permission (a copyright license) from the broadcaster. Then, in 1976, Congress passed a law overturning the Supreme Court decisions and making it a copyright violation to retransmit a local broadcast signal without a copyright license. This is why cable and satellite operators, when retransmitting a broadcast signal, either must operate under a statutory “compulsory” copyright license, or receive permission from the broadcaster.

But Congress made an exception. Any “non-profit organization” could make a “secondary transmission” of a local broadcast signal, provided the non-profit did not receive any “direct or indirect commercial advantage” and either offered the signal for free or for a fee “necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs” of providing the service. 17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5).

Sports Fans Coalition NY is a non-profit organization under the laws of New York State. Locast.org does not charge viewers for the digital translator service (although we do ask for contributions) and if it does so, will only recover costs as stipulated in the copyright statute. Finally, in dozens of pages of legal analysis provided to Sports Fans Coalition, an expert in copyright law concluded that under this particular provision of the copyright statute, secondary transmission may be made online, the same way traditional broadcast translators do so over the air.

For these reasons, Locast.org believes it is well within the bounds of copyright law when offering you the digital translator service.

Earlier efforts to stream over the air stations without the permission of the networks or stations involved quickly resulted in lawsuits and eventual forced closedowns. Locast is the exception, at least so far, having launched first in New York City in January 2018. Since that time, no lawsuits have been filed against the service despite its rapid expansion.

Locast suggests viewers donate $5 a month to help cover its costs and is soliciting donations to launch in more cities. Currently, Seattle, San Diego, Alexandria, La., and Albany, N.Y. are the top contenders.

The service is geofenced, so only those present in a Locast-serviced city can access the service.

Philadelphia Latest City to Get Free Locast Streaming of Local TV Stations

Phillip Dampier November 7, 2018 Locast, Video 1 Comment

Philadelphia is joining New York, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Houston, and Denver as the latest city to get free streaming of local, over-the-air TV stations from an innovative non-profit “digital translator” service.

Locast began streaming 15 local Philadelphia broadcasters on Monday, viewable on computers and portable devices including Roku, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.

Locast Philadelphia Lineup (Partial)

  • 2 — KJWP Wilmington, Del./Philadelphia (MeTV)
  • 3 — KYW Philadelphia (CBS)
  • 6 — WPVI Philadelphia (ABC)
  • 10 –WCAU Philadelphia (NBC)
  • 12 — WHYY Wilmington, Del. (PBS)
  • 17 — WPHL Philadelphia (MyTV)
  • 29 — WTXF Philadelphia (FOX)
  • 57 — WPSG Philadelphia (CW)
  • Unknown Station
  • 65 — WUVP Vineland, N.J. (Univision)
  • 69 — WFMZ Allentown (Ind.)

So far, Locast has survived while services like Aereo have not, because it is was designed to exploit a loophole in the Copyright Act of 1976.

Under Title 17, Chapter 1, section 111 (a)(5) of the Act, Locast is legal because the law exempts anyone who offers a “secondary transmission not made by a cable system but is made by a governmental body, or other nonprofit organization, without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage, and without charge to the recipients of the secondary transmission other than assessments necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service,” from having to get permission from the stations involved.

David Goodfriend, a Washington, D.C. attorney and founder of Locast, may only have legal exposure if a court determines the law was intended to cover translator television broadcasting, not online streaming. But so far, broadcasters and their lobbying groups, including the National Association of Broadcasters, have surprisingly ignored Locast and its gradual expansion.

Because the service is offered free of charge, Locast accepts voluntary contributions from viewers who use and appreciate the service. Goodfriend keeps costs down by leasing space on an affordable building’s roof, places a traditional TV antenna on it, and then contracts with a local internet service provider to distribute the signals over the internet. To remain legal, Locast asks to verify all of its viewers’ locations, and only permits viewing inside a covered city’s reception area.

Locast founder David Goodfriend recently appeared on Cheddar to discuss Locast and how it can be an ally for traditional TV broadcasters. (5:49)

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