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Cord cutters just lost the best free way to watch broadcast TV — what to do now

Bad news for cord-cutters: Locast shuts down
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Cord-cutters love Locast, a nonprofit service that enabled folks in markets around the country to stream local channels including ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC for free. Unsurprisingly, those four networks (plus parent companies Disney, NBCUniversal and Universal) were behind the lawsuit that jointly sued Locast into suspending its service on Thursday (Sept. 2).

In a statement on its site, Locast noted "As a non-profit, Locast was designed from the very beginning to operate in accordance with the strict letter of the law, but in response to the court’s recent rulings, with which we respectfully disagree, we are hereby suspending operations, effective immediately."

This is an annoyance for all who didn't want to pay more for cable, especially Sling TV customers who only get Fox and NBC with Sling Blue. Sling had been offering, and promoting, its free Locast integration as recently as earlier this week — but now that's gone. 

What to do now

One of the best HD antennas can help you pull in a decent stream, but your mileage may vary. Not all residences have great access to signals, as some TG staff have noted.

Sling is continuing to offer another way, with the AirTV 2 for streaming local channels (connected to an HD antenna) or the AirTV Anywhere (also requires antenna) for recording local broadcast networks. Sling offers package deals for both its AirTV devices and RCA HD Antenna starting at $49 when you pay for three months of Sling up front.

What went wrong with Locast

Locast, debuting in 2019, attempted to succeed where network-rebroadcaster Aereo failed. Its trick? Well, it thought that being a nonprofit would shield it. The service then would later pull a Wikipedia, often interrupting streams to ask for $5 donations to keep things afloat. 

That matters because the United States District Court in the southern district of New York ruled with the networks because the donations weren't just used to support operating costs. The ruling reads "Since portions of its user payments fund Locast’s expansion, its charges exceed those 'necessary to defray the actual and reasonable costs of maintaining and operating the secondary transmission service,' which is the only exemption granted in Section 111 (a) (5)." 

You can read more here in the official documents supplied by Eriq Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter, whose reporting on the story is here.

The ruling came out on Monday, Aug. 31, two days before Locast suspended service.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is a senior editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past six-plus years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.