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The Five Spot: David Goodfriend

As Aereo’s backers found out nearly a decade ago, an entrepreneur is in for the fight of their life when seeking to stream seemingly free over-the-air broadcast signals to consumers. But David Goodfriend, a former deputy staff secretary to President Bill Clinton, an ex-Dish Network attorney and previously an adviser to FCC commissioner Susan Ness, has been girding for this battle seemingly his entire career.

The lawyer’s nonprofit over-the-top service, Locast, is now in 18 U.S. markets, streaming broadcast stations to more than 42 million U.S. homes, covering 37% of the country. Predictably, The Walt Disney Co., NBCUniversal, Fox and ViacomCBS are trying to stop Locast from doing this. Facing the same combatants, Aereo was famously struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012. Goodfriend recently told B+C senior content producer, technology Daniel Frankel why that’s not going to happen to Locast. 

(Image credit: Locast)

How did you get the idea for Locast? I didn’t. Lots of other people had the idea before I founded Locast. I talked about it while teaching my telecommunications law class, but finally, around late 2016, I just thought it was time for me to do something public-spirited and help people who couldn’t receive broadcast signals or afford cable. So I took the law at its word and launched a service under 17 USC 111(a)(5).

What technology is Locast built on? Everything is off-the-shelf, open-source technology. We haven’t patented anything or created any trade secrets. Our technology vendor did a great job of keeping the user interface simple and intuitive, with fast load time and crisp picture quality.

What makes Locast different from the enterprise it’s often compared to, Aereo? The legal basis and consumer offer are totally different. We are relying on a statute that plainly says on its face that a nonprofit may retransmit a broadcast signal. Period. Aereo relied on an interpretation of the performance right that required some complicated engineering. We offer our service for free but ask for a voluntary contribution. Aereo charged a fee. There’s another big difference: Aereo’s founder [Chet Kanojia] was a wealthy entrepreneur and raised millions of dollars from Barry Diller, who was even wealthier. I haven’t made a dime from this project and rely overwhelmingly on small, individual donors.

What makes you confident you’ll prevail in court against the media giants? Two things: First, the law clearly is on our side. We meticulously designed Locast to fit within the letter and spirit of the statute. The fact that plaintiffs waited a year and half before taking action, and even then did not try to get an injunction, speaks volumes about the uphill battle they know they face in court. Second, the public-interest benefit of Locast, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, is crystal clear. Don’t take my word for it. Thousands of Americans have offered personal testimonials about how they couldn’t get critical local news and emergency information without Locast, either because they can’t receive over-the-air signals or can’t afford ever-increasing pay TV fees. Finally, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation offered to represent Locast along with our excellent litigation team, I knew we were on the right side of history.

Are $5 donations going to pay for all of this as it scales? Yes, in fact they already are doing so. User donations are covering the cost of operations and helping us to pay down debt and accounts payable. Even though they represent a tiny fraction of the over 1.3 million people who signed up with Locast, the users who contribute $5 each month cover all of our expenses. Our finances will only improve as we add more users, donors, and markets, enabling us to reinvest in operations.

BONUS FIVE

What are you binge-watching? Money HeistThe Plot Against AmericaOzarkHunters. Even catching old episodes of M*A*S*H* on Locast!

What streaming services do you subscribe to? Netflix, Amazon Prime, Sling, Locast (yes, I’m a monthly donor).

Do you still have a pay TV subscription? Not for long. What a ripoff. Same price, no sports? Thievery.

Favorite podcast? The Daily.

Bucket list destination? Vietnam. I want to bike down the length of the country with my wife someday.