Broadcast Satellite (DBS) is a satellite-delivered program service
meant for home reception. DBS programming is, in most respects,
the same as that available to cable television subscribers. DBS
subscribers, however, do not access their programs from terrestrial
cable systems but rather directly from high powered telecommunications
satellites stationed in geosynchronous orbit some 22,000 miles above
the earth. Like cable systems, DBS program suppliers package a variety
of program services or channels and market them to prospective DBS
subscribers for a monthly fee.
DBS business may be distinguished from the older Television Receive
Only (TVRO) business in three important respects: technology, programming
and cost. TVRO households (of which there are approximately four
million in the United States) must purchase and install a satellite
dish measuring between seven to ten feet in diameter and costing
approximately $1,800. TVRO households receive about 75 channels
of unscrambled programming but may also subscribe to a package of
scrambled ("encrypted") program services for a monthly fee. TVRO
programming is delivered via the three to six gigahertz (GHz) frequency
range, known as the C-band, at a power of ten watts or less.
dishes, on the other hand, measure 18 inches or less in diameter
and cost approximately $700. DBS and TVRO program packages are similar,
although DBS subscribers cannot receive the numerous unscrambled
programming channels available to TVRO dish owners. DBS transmissions
are delivered at the 11-to-15 GHz frequency range, known as the
Ku-band, at a power that may exceed 120 watts. The higher power
of the Ku-band allows a more directed satellite-to-receiver signal
and, thus, requires a much smaller receiver dish than is required
for C-band reception.
The origins of DBS date to 1975 when Home Box Office (HBO) first
utilized a satellite to deliver its program service to local cable
television systems. Numerous individuals, especially those living
in rural areas beyond the reach of cable television, erected TVRO
dishes on their property and accessed whatever programming they
wanted as it flowed from satellites. Program suppliers soon objected
to free receipt of their product by TVRO owners. As a result, HBO
and similar services began scrambling their signals in 1985. TVRO
owners thereafter were required to pay a subscription fee to receive
first effort to create a true DBS service in the United States occurred
in 1980 when the Satellite Television Corporation (STV) proposed
such a service to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The
FCC approved STC's proposal and invited other companies to propose
DBS services. Of the 13 companies that responded to the FCC, proposals
from eight of them--including such electronics industry giants as
Western Union and RCA--eventually were approved. By the early 1990s,
however, the high start-up cost of establishing a DBS service (estimated
at more than a billion dollars) had forced many of the original
DBS applicants either to delay or to abandon their projects altogether.
What's more, DBS companies were uncertain that program suppliers
that heretofore had provided programming exclusively to cable systems
would extend their services to DBS. That matter was settled when
the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act of
1992 prohibited cable program suppliers from refusing to sell their
services to DBS operators.
permission to launch DBS services included satellite transponder
(or transmitter) assignment and DBS orbital slot assignment. Satellites
providing a DBS service are allowed to occupy eight orbital slots
positioned at 61.5, 101, 110, 119, 148, 157, 166, and 175 degrees
consortium of cable television system owners launched the first
generation DBS service, called Primestar, in July 1991. Primestar
utilized 45 watt transponders aboard GE American's Satcom K1 satellite
to beam 67 program channels to some 70,000 households by 1995. Subscribers
paid a monthly fee of $25-$35 for the Primestar service in addition
to a $100-$200 installation fee for receiving hardware that Primestar
continued to own.
second generation DBS service became operational when the DBS-1
satellite went into orbit on 17 December 1993. The DBS-1, owned
by Hughes Space and Communications Group, carried 32 transponders.
Ten of the transponders were owned by United States Satellite Broadcasting
(USSB), and the remaining transponders were owned by DirecTV. Although
Primestar, DirecTV and USSB all transmitted via the Ku-band, the
higher powered DBS-1 satellite allowed DirecTV and USSB subscribers
to use a much smaller receiving dish.
and USSB maintained a joint identity for marketing purposes and
for selling the receiving system used for both DBS services. The
receiving system was a package comprised of dish antenna, decoder
unit, and remote control called the Digital Satellite System (DSS).
The basic DSS unit retailed in 1995 for about $700 with installation
costs ranging from $70 for a do-it-yourself kit to $200 for dealer
assistance. By March 1995, over 400,000 of the systems had been
presents some major problems to subscribers. For instance, the receiving
dish that requires a clear line-of-sight fix on the transmitting
satellite may be blown out of alignment by heavy winds, thunderstorms
will disrupt DBS signal reception, and DBS program services do not
yet include local over-the-air television channels. However, DBS
seems most appealing to persons who either are disenchanted with
cable television or who live in areas that are not served by cable.
Grant, August E. and Kenton T. Wilkinson. Communication Technology
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H.E. Communication Satellites: Their Development and Impact
New York: Free Press, 1990.
Michael M.A. The New Communications Technology, 2d ed. Boston,
Massachusetts: Focal Press, 1994.
Rees, D.W.E. Satellite Communications: The First Quarter Century
of Service. New York: Wiley & Sons, 1990.
John P. Direct-to-Home Satellite Broadcasting. New York:
Television/Radio Age, 1980.
also Pay Cable;