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Cord Cutters Get Local TV Stations With Locast.org

Cord Cutters Get Local TV Stations With Locast.org

By    |   Friday, 12 January 2018 01:46 PM

Cord cutters and web TV viewers in New York are getting access to local network TV stations without paying fees or subscribing to cable.

And such service may soon be available nationwide.

Locast.org is a nonprofit, public service to New Yorkers that provides the local broadcast signals of 14 New York City broadcast stations over the Internet.

Viewers must be within the NYC Nielsen Designated Market Area (DMA) to receive the service.

Typically, viewers can’t get local CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and other television stations without a sophisticated digital antenna or subscribing to paid cable or satellite services.

One might ask how such a free service exists.

Locast.org claims to have found a loophole in the law.

Nonprofit organizations have always provided "translator" TV stations as a public service.

When a primary broadcaster cannot reach a receiver with a sufficiently strong signal — as in the case of being too great a distance or if the viewer lives in a basement apartment — the translator amplifies that signal with an additional transmitter, enabling viewers who otherwise could not get the over-the-air signal to receive programming.

The pertinent copyright statute (17 U.S.C. 111(a)(5)) allows the nonprofit translator services to rebroadcast local station signals without receiving a copyright license from the broadcaster and without having to pay a “retrans” fee to cable operators.

Indeed, under the law the nonprofit may even charge a fee to cover the cost of operations.

Locast.org provides the same beneficent public service as a translator, but instead of an over-the-air signal, it is a "digital translator" that redistributes TV content by sending the local broadcast signal to consumers via streaming over the Internet.

Like a nonprofit translator, Locast.org can improve the image and sound quality and expand the availability of local broadcast programming throughout a local market.

Locast.org is owned by the nonprofit Sports Fans Coalition NY (SFCNY).

The service went live on Jan. 11 at 3 p.m. in advance of the weekend’s American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC) divisional round matchups.

David Goodfriend, SFCNYs chairman, says his audience is "anyone who 'cuts the cord' — cable or satellite — but cannot receive an over-the-air signal from broadcasters and don't want to pay for a bundle of channels on an OTT service, like DIRECTV NOW or YouTubeTV."

He adds, "This could include people living in basement apartments who don't have access to a rooftop or balcony antenna, or people who don't own a TV set but want to watch video on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

"Today, while I was in New York City, I met with young adults who run their own local blog and every single one of them said they had cut the cord but have trouble getting their local broadcast TV programming.”

One obvious question is how such a service can make money.

"We don’t," says Goodfriend. "We break even, as a non-profit, and as contemplated by the copyright statute we operate under, which allows us to charge a fee to cover costs."

Attempts to get around retrans payments have been done before and failed.

In 2012, a start-up company called Aereo leased to subscribers an antenna and DVR kept in “the cloud” (a remote warehouse) that could be accessed over the Internet. Subscribers could view live and time-shifted broadcast television and record it.

But Broadcasters sued and on June 14, 2014, the Supreme Court ruled against Aereo, finding that the company infringed upon the rights of copyright holders.

Asked if he expected to be sued, Goodfriend — who is also an attorney and adjunct professor at The Georgetown University Law Center in Communications and Technology Policy — says, "Aereo is instructive for two reasons. First, it proved that there really is a consumer demand for broadcast signals online, especially in New York where, as I said above, it's unusually hard to get a broadcast signal indoors or on a portable device.

"Second, Aereo failed at the Supreme Court mostly because it too closely resembled a cable operator — it charged a fee, made a profit, and in the opinion of the majority, looked too much like what Congress was trying to call a cable operator for purposes of requiring a distributor to secure permission from the broadcasters.

"But just a few sentences away in the same copyright statute, there's a provision saying that no permission from a broadcaster is required if the entity doing the retransmission is a nonprofit."

Goodfriend says there is no case law on his form of re-transmission and fully expects litigation that will resolve the matter.

To partake of Locast.org’s offerings, you must have a broadband Internet connection for optimal performance.

Using a laptop, smartphone, or computer connected to the Internet, just point your browser to www.Locast.org to sign up online.

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Cord cutters and web TV viewers in New York are getting access to local network TV stations without paying fees or subscribing to cable. And such service may soon be available nationwide. Locast.org is a nonprofit, public service to New Yorkers that provides the local...
Locast, cord, cutters, nyc
Friday, 12 January 2018 01:46 PM
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