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CSPAN is one of the few places you can get a (mostly) unfiltered look at the many proceedings of the United States Congress. Contrary to popular belief, CSPAN isn’t a network for old fossils with nothing better to do than watch funding bills get passed. It’s managed to make the leap to at least one online streaming service, plus some alternatives, allowing politically minded viewers the chance to access a CSPAN live stream at their leisure.
Here’s everything you need to know to watch CSPAN online.
What is CSPAN?
In a rare act of public service, the cable industry formed what would be known as CSPAN in 1979. CSPAN airs political events (speeches, rallies) and live coverage of congressional procedures during most legislative sessions, as well some foreign government coverage. If you saw the pivotal moment when John McCain gave a thumbs down to overturning Obamacare, you can thank CSPAN’s live cameras in the Senate for capturing the moment (without a political strategist talking over it). CSPAN has also become synonymous with racially charged or emotionally distraught call-in segments, such as when sexual assault survivors began calling in with their own experiences in the wake of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.
How to access a CSPAN live stream
Since CSPAN is a public channel funded by the cable industry, viewing a CSPAN live stream online without a subscription to DirecTV Now is a bit of a hassle, and your viewing options are somewhat limited, but it is possible to watch some major coverage for free on c-span.org. CSPAN says in its FAQ that viewers without cable or satellite subscriptions are allowed to watch “live coverage of all Federal government events.” This means House and Senate debates, committee hearings (like the Kavanaugh hearings), Executive Branch events (at the time of writing, President Trump is holding an Oval Office gathering of coal industry leaders), courts coverage, “campaign 2016 events” (we suspect this is just out of date and will change to 2020 campaign coverage in due time), and CSPAN’s morning interview program, Washington Journal.
Viewers will be able to find these free live streams at the top of CSPAN’s home page, and they appear to run without any ads, save for a three-second introductory clip from CSPAN.
The only downside seems to be that you might miss the beginning of each CSPAN live stream since there’s no apparent way to keep the stream going between approved segments.
CSPAN live stream: Other ways to watch CSPAN online
1) DirecTV Now
- Cost: $40-$75 per month (after a 7-day free trial)
- DirecTV Now devices: Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Amazon Fire Stick
- Local channels: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, the CW (enter your ZIP code here to check local availability)
Thankfully, your only option for a proper CSPAN live stream is also one of the best options in all of live TV streaming. , but certainly not a ripoff. DirecTV Now’s entry-level Live a Little package provides more than 65 channels, and it includes everything a news lover could want: CSPAN, CSPAN 2, BBC America, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and plenty of entertainment options. For the drama lovers, you can add premium channels like HBO, Starz, and Showtime for as little as $5 a month, which is a godsend. For Spanish speakers, DirecTV Now’s Todo y Mas package is one of the few on the market that caters to such an audience with more than 40 Spanish-exclusive channels. (Here’s a complete guide to DirecTV Now channels.) It’s also worth noting that AT&T Unlimited customers are eligible for a $25 monthly discount on every DirecTV Now package.
It’s also worth mentioning that CSPAN’s site does allow you to check if online streaming providers count as cable/satellite providers in your area, allowing you full access. You simply go to the very bottom of CSPAN’s home page to the “Channel Finder,” enter your zip code, and see what your options are.
Unfortunately, we entered numerous ZIP codes and were told every time that streaming services like YouTube TV didn’t count and that the usual cable suspects (DISH Network, Xfinity/Comcast, etc) were the only options. It’s worth giving a shot, but don’t hold your breath.
If you’re comfortable just listening to CSPAN’s programming, the CSPAN Radio app is free for iOS users. It offers live and on-demand content from CSPAN Radio, as well as all three CSPAN channels. The app is advertised as available on Android, but a search through the mobile and desktop versions of the Google Play Store turned up nothing but defunct URLs.
New to cord-cutting? Here are our picks for the best movie streaming sites of 2018 and free live TV apps and channels. If you’re looking for a specific channel, here’s how to watch HBO, Showtime, Starz, Sundance TV, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPNU, Willow, AMC, FX, Fox News, Freeform, MSNBC, CNN, CNBC, FS1, TBS, TNT, Tennis Channel, Golf Channel, Syfy, HGTV, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Bravo, Lifetime, Discovery, PBS, the CW, BBC, NBA TV, MTV, Comedy Central, Food Network, TLC, HLN, A&E, Animal Planet, National Geographic, the Weather Channel, the History Channel, and NFL RedZone without cable, as well as free movies on YouTube. If you’re on the move, here’s how to watch Fox Sports Go and live stream NBC Sports.
Joseph Knoop is a gaming writer for Daily Dot, a native Chicagoan, and a slave to all things Overwatch. He co-founded the college geek culture outlet ByteBSU, then interned at Game Informer, and now writes for a bunch websites his parents have never heard of.