Can You Get Local Channels on Satellite with Your RV?

It sort of depends what you’re willing to do. You have options, but if the question is “can I do this for free…” your options are a bit more limited. Let’s break it down.

Your “service address” decides a lot.
Part of the agreement you sign with DIRECTV or DISH says that you will tell them where the equipment is going to be used. This is referred to as your service address, and they’re not just asking because they’re curious, they’re asking because they have to. The FCC protects local broadcasters by making sure that customers can’t get out-of-market channels. Usually this isn’t a big deal since the over-the-air signals can’t travel very far, but with satellite that could potentially mean that you could get locals from anywhere if the system were set up that way. It’s not.

Because of that FCC protection, both DIRECTV and DISH choose to use “spot beam” technology which lets them focus a signal on a particular area. This actually is a cost cutting measure because the same broadcast frequencies can be used for multiple areas as long as they are far enough away. However, it means that if you get too far from your home area, you just won’t get local channels at all. They just won’t be there.

You won’t get the local channels for the area you’re in, unless…
The only way to get locals from the area where you have the RV parked is to change the “Service Address.” There are two problems with this from an RV point of view. First of all you have to have a real physical address. “Parked on the side of Highway 62” isn’t going to satisfy them. Second you can only change your service address every six months without going through amazing amounts of nonsense, so if you’re driving from city to city, this isn’t a great method. However, if you do live in a trailer park half the year or spend months at a time in the same area, this could work for you.

You can always put up an antenna…
There are RV antennas and antennas that can set up very quickly on tripods so you can get over-the-air local channels. The issue with this is that you have to actually be somewhere that there are local channels. If you’re camping in the middle of the New Mexico desert there may not be any signals to get. Also, even if your RV satellite dish is capable of working when the RV’s moving, your over-the-air antenna won’t. Digital TV only works when you’re going under 15mph, which might help if you’re on the Los Angeles freeways but for the most part it’s not going to do much.

And then there are those lucky folks…
If your service address is in the Los Angeles or New York City metro areas, you’re actually one of the blessed few who can get local channels anywhere. Most (not all) channels from those cities are carried nationally for the benefit of those folks who legitimately do not have local channels in their area. Now, don’t be getting any fancy ideas about renting a post office box in NYC and changing your service area to that. It doesn’t work… they’re on to that particular trick.

So what can you do?
If you’re traveling all over the country and you have a decent data plan, your best friend is going to be the DIRECTV App for smartphones and tablets. A lot of network programming is there for free and can be streamed from anywhere. Now, they’re not going to have the farm report from your hometown, so obviously there are some limitations. But it’s a lot better than having no access at all.

And yes, you have to be standing still in order to use an antenna, but it’s actually a great option because a lot of the stuff you want to watch is on at night after you’ve parked. Antennas take up very little space and they set up quickly. Just remember to do a “Channel Scan” every time you’re in a new city to make sure the TV is set up properly.