We canceled our cable TV service a few years ago and haven’t really missed it. But there are times being a “cord cutter” is a problem, like when a certain team is playing football and the game is on a local TV station. (We could try putting an antenna on the roof and watch for free — like in olden times — but that’s not a good option for us.)
Tonight being the first game of the World Series, somebody asked whether we could watch it. In the past, that’s meant signing up for one of the services that transmit local stations over the internet. We’ve used those a couple of times (via our handy Roku box) but they’re not worth the monthly subscription.
In search of a good option, I got a very pleasant surprise. There is a free service that transmits local TV stations on the internet. It’s called Locast. They can explain:
Locast is a not-for-profit service offering users access to broadcast television over the internet. We stream the signal . . . to select US cities. Locast has modernized the delivery of broadcast TV by offering streaming media free of charge. This is your right, this is our mission.
In today’s modern world, we find ourselves in many different settings. Access to broadcast TV is our right. The existing antiquated technology doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of the average user who deserves to access broadcast programming, using the Internet as we do for almost every other service.
. . . many households just can’t get a proper signal to receive broadcast TV. This can be due to geographic anomalies or living in more isolated rural areas. Rather than relying on a traditional rebroadcast antenna, these folks should be allowed to use a modern method of streaming through our digital transcoding service. Free your TV!
From what I can see, this thing actually works. I created an account and registered our Roku box. Lo and behold, there are maybe 30 channels being broadcast out of New York City. Lo and behold, it’s Locast!
The service is free, but they do ask for donations, beginning at $5 a month (a reasonable request):
To do this we will need your support. There are considerable costs for equipment, bandwidth, and operational support that helps run Locast. These costs will only go up as we expand our service to new markets, as well as when more and more people cut the cord to become new Locasters.
There’s actually more to the story. I wondered who’s behind this operation. It turns out to be an organization called Sports Fans Coalition:
SFC is a grassroots, sports fans advocacy organization. We’re made up of sports fans who want to have a say in how the sports industry works, and to put fans first.
We have one goal: to give you a seat at the table whenever laws or public policy impacting sports are being made.
So in addition to doing things like lobbying Congress and suing TV networks, they are making local TV available to around 44% of the US population.
But wait! Is this legal? Apparently it is.
Locast.org is a “digital translator,” meaning that Locast.org operates just like a traditional broadcast translator service, except instead of using an over-the-air signal to boost a broadcaster’s reach, we stream the signal over the Internet . . .
Ever since the dawn of TV broadcasting in the mid-20th Century, non-profit organizations have provided “translator” TV stations as a public service. Where a primary broadcaster cannot reach a receiver with a strong enough signal, the translator amplifies that signal with another transmitter, allowing consumers who otherwise could not get the over-the-air signal to receive important programming, including local news, weather and, of course, sports. Locast.org provides the same public service, except instead of an over-the-air signal transmitter, we provide the local broadcast signal via online streaming.
According to Locast, federal law makes this possible:
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 . . . must operate under a statutory . . . 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.
One last word from Locast:
Why hasn’t anyone done this before?
Good question. We don’t know. But we did a lot of due diligence before launching and learned that the technology to offer a digital translator service has gotten a lot less expensive and the law clearly allows a non-profit to provide such a service. So we’re the first. You’re welcome.
Now, if World Series games didn’t average 3 1/2 hours. . .