Locast review: free local programming with a catch

If you're one of the many people who have lost their lives, you've probably lost access to most or all of your local stations. And your options (unless you want to reattach that cable box) are limited. You can buy a separate antenna in order to access these stations, but they are blocked by nearby structures. So what do you do?

There is at least one service that is trying to fill the gap. Locast is a recent service that offers access to local broadcasting. Currently, it covers nine cities: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Denver, and Washington, DC.

As a New Yorker who left a few months ago, I had to admit that I was curious how Locast worked and what it would give me access to. In New York City, Locast has 1[ads1]7 local stations available, including local outlets for major networks (CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, PBS), and not-so-major local stations (WWOR, WPIX, and several other English and Spanish -language stations).

Quick and easy – and irritating

Locast's sign-up process is not all-difficult: I just clicked on the city I live in, and then registered with an email and password. (You can sign up through Facebook.) The site requires that I enable geolocation; Locast does not provide access to any stations outside their designated market area.

After that, I gave a basic programming grid with the stations presented in channel order. I clicked on the one I wanted to view, and what immediately watching the show that was currently running. Locast is accessible via a variety of formats: I viewed it via the web from a desktop computer, on a Roku-enabled TV, and using the Android app (there is also an iOS app). The interface and service were pretty much the same on each other and the quality of the stream was reasonable.

How can Locast do this? Unlike Aereo, 2014, Locast has registered as a 501 (c) (4) non-profit advocacy group (under the auspices of the Sports Fan Coalition). According to its FAQ, since it does not get any "direct or indirect commercial advantage" from the transmissions, it has the right to broadcast local stations.

The FAQ also cites Locast's ability to charge a fee "necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs" of providing the service. Technically, Locast does not charge a fee – it asks for contributions of at least $ 5 per month. Locast's broadcasts are virtually unwatchable.

Why? Because every 15 minutes, the broadcast is interrupted by a request for the membership fee. Actually, the broadcast is not just stopped – it's completely stopped. After the plea for money is over, you are not back to the programming grid. And you say goodbye to any dialogue you may have missed in the meantime. (While I did not pony up the $ 5 requested, the user comments on the Android app, members do not get to watch shows uninterrupted.)