In order to understand the history of satellite television, you first have to go all the way back to the 1950's during the space race between the USA and Russia. The first satellite to orbit the earth was Sputnik, launched by the Russians in 1957. It was 6 years later until the first communications satellite was launched. This satellite was developed by both large corporations and government entities. It was called Syncom II and flew in an orbit circling 22,300 miles over the Atlantic Ocean. Using this satellite, the first telecommunications took place between a US Navy ship in the harbor in Nigeria and a naval station in Lakehurst New Jersey, USA in July of 1963.
However, it wasn't until 15 years later that regular television signals were transmitted via satellites. Television started to broadcast with satellite on March 1, 1978 and from this point all of the major television networks adopted this style of communications as the main means of distribution to network affiliates through 1984.
At this point, many people that lived in rural areas that weren't able to view normal broadcast television bought DTH (direct to home) satellite dishes. These dishes were several feet in diameter and were used to pick up television broadcasts from satellites overhead.
However one of the disadvantages of sending signals via satellite was the ability for almost anyone to receive the signals for free. Pay TV stations went to court to fight for the right to restrict access to their TV signal. However, the FCC ruled against TV stations and stated that it had an "open skies" policy. This ruling stated that if TV stations had the right to broadcast signals over satellite, the public had the right to receive the signals.
At this point the TV broadcasters decided to encrypt the signal. While anyone can receive the signal, in order to view programming, not only would they have to have a satellite dish, but also a decoder.
With the demand for satellite televisions growing, the FCC in 1980 established regulations for direct broadcast satellites or DBS, this would be a new service that would consist of broadcast satellites rotating around the earth in geostationary orbit. In order to view the broadcast signal, consumers would need a satellite dish to receive signals and special equipment to decode the encrypted signals.
It wasn't until 1991 that the first DBS company was formed (Primestar) and it took only a few more years for Primestar (now defunct) to have competition, specifically other services such as Direct TV (1994) and DISH Network (1996), proving that satellite TV as a broadcast medium does work and is profitable.
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