Four years ago, the Supreme Court hammered nails into the coffin of the Aereo television service that captured local over-the-air TV stations on tiny antennas and streamed them to laptops and mobile phones for a subscription fee.
The nation's highest court said, in a 6-3 vote, that Aereo violated federal laws and shut it down.
Now, the idea of streaming local TV stations is back from the dead and in a new form — with a Washington lobbyist and lawyer who likes to poke Big Media, and Comcast Corp., in the eye.
David Goodfriend, the lawyer with a private tech backer who advocates for cord cutting, launched Locast as a "digital translator" service in Philadelphia on Monday to stream local television stations over the internet to computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones, and even to traditional televisions through its Roku app. It offers 15 over-the-air stations in the Philadelphia market, including NBC10, CBS3, Fox 29, and 6ABC.
"It's working great," Goodfriend said Monday morning of Locast, now available in seven major TV markets. "You should download the app."
The Locast app is available for Apple's iOS, Google's Android, and Roku operating systems.
Although the courts shut down Aereo as violating federal law, Goodfriend says that a provision in the 1976 Copyright Act allows a nonprofit to boost television signals so that people could watch local television broadcasters — though even he admits that no one has tried this before and Comcast-owned NBC and others could attempt to shut him down through the courts. Goodfriend says he is boosting the broadcast TV signals — only over the internet and not over-the-air.
Because it's a nonprofit organization, Locast (which stands for local broadcast) will not charge subscriptions for its streaming service but instead operate on a public-television model and seek donors and benefactors, Goodfriend said. In addition to traditional payment methods, the organization also accepts cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, bitcoin cash, ethereum, and litecoin.
Locast has been available already in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, Houston, and Denver.
Aereo was criticized and sued because it was a for-profit company and broadcasters claimed that it was stealing their content.
Goodfriend said he believes that consumers will want to watch free streams of over-the-air TV stations with Locast in addition to streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime for entertainment — a big threat to Comcast Corp. and legacy media companies that rely heavily on the cable bundle for revenue and profits.
"I want us to go back to the roots and original purpose of local TV media so that it is widely available and inexpensive," Goodfriend said on Sunday.
Goodfriend is a Washington lawyer and past Comcast foe who opposed the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal. He launched Locast in early 2018 as a diversification of his nonprofit Sports Fan Coalition, which has criticized the high cost of sports programming on television, particularly the NFL.
Critics say he is attempting to exploit a loophole in federal laws. But, so far, television broadcasters — which were quick to sue Aereo — have not taken legal action against Locast. The National Association of Broadcasters had no comment on Monday.
Comcast also had no comment.
In each of the markets where Locast operates, the nonprofit organization leases roof space, erects antennas — "like what you put on your roof" — and contracts with a broadband provider to deliver the local television station content over the internet, Goodfriend said.
Goodfriend declined to name his tech backer who he says has lent his nonprofit the money to launch the service. He has filed an application for Locast's charitable status with the Internal Revenue Service and is waiting for a decision from the government. The latest 990 for the Sports Fan Coalition showed $223,764 in net assets.
"You have this vast multi-billion-dollar marketplace and the consumer always gets screwed," Goodfriend said of the pay-TV business. A nonprofit will bring "rationality back."