According to the telco, the donation “will support SFCNY’s mission to make free broadcast content available to consumers and offer them more choice.” AT&T added the Locast interactive app to internet-connected DirecTV and U-verse set-tops on May 30 — giving it a path to perhaps eventually avoid paying retransmission fees to broadcasters.
Locast retransmits ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and other local over-the-air broadcast signals over the internet. From a technical perspective, it’s exactly the same model used by Aereo, the Barry Diller-backed company that was sued out of existence in 2014 for selling a subscription service that aggregated OTA television signals without a license.
Unlike Aereo, Locast claims it’s 100% legal — because it doesn’t charge anything, relying instead on user contributions. The organization says it operates under the same copyright statute that lets broadcast translators receive and transmit a primary local broadcast TV station without a copyright license. According to Sports Fans Coalition NY, that means Locast is allowed to provide the digital translator service to viewers even if local broadcasters object. So far, broadcasters have not challenged Locast in court.
The Locast service is currently available in 13 cities, representing nearly one-third of all U.S. TV homes: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas, Washington, Houston, Boston, Denver, Baltimore, and Rapid City and Sioux Falls, S.D.
In addition to Locast, AT&T offers a free digital antenna to customers for local stations that aren’t available via Locast. New York-based Sports Fans Coalition NY was founded in 2017 and first launched Locast in New York City in January 2018.