Very few people know that there is anything legitimately free in the world of satellite. Of course, it’s one of the first things you learn as an aficionado but most people in this world are anything but passionate about any subject at all much less free satellite television. (Just because you and all your friends and family know a thing, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s common knowledge.) The free satellite channels available are referred to as “Free to Air” or simply “FTA” for short. This article is a brief synopsis of what is free and what is not, and what it takes to actually receive the stations here in the United States.
As you may know, very few things in life are truly free. To receive these FTA channels, you’ll need to buy a satellite dish, a receiver, and pay to have it installed (or install it yourself). Most FTA systems cost around $200 for the dish and the receiver, and another $125 to $150 to have it professionally installed. The shipping on these dishes is substantial, as the dish needs to be at least 75cm (around 30 inches) in order to reliably bring in FTA programming. Your old Dish Network or DirecTV dish will not work (for more reasons than just it’s diminutive size). All told you’d be looking at $200 (for self install and local pickup to save on shipping) to $400 (professionally installed and shipped) to get up and running. It will cost more for a digital video recording box (DVR) or for a high definition box (HD).
So, this will get met 200+ channels, but what kind of channels? This is where FTA so often times falls short of the pay per month systems available like Dish Network and DirecTV. Over 100 of those channels are not in English. In fact, only about 70 of them are English, and those English stations are Christian specialty programs. You won’t find any CNN, ESPN, FOX, MTV, etc. Over 50 stations are in Arabic, then there are 20+ Farsi stations, about 5 Vietnamese, 9 Thai, and on and on… See a complete list here. So there is a niche group of people who would have a very high interest in the systems, namely Christians, Arabs, Persians, and other foreigners. There are only a couple of channels that are high definition in FTA, versus 100+ high definition channels on pay television.
There are some general interest channels like Fashion TV, but it’s hard to justify the price tag for just a handful of channels if you aren’t interested in the bulk of the programming. Do keep in mind, with Dish Network and DirecTV you’ll be paying somewhere around $1600 to $2000 for a two year contract, compared to a FTA system’s cost of $400 over that same time period. It gets worse the longer you pay that monthly bill… $1000 a year on average with pay systems, and $0 a year with FTA.
Most people who are passionate about Free to Air television turn it into a hobby, by occasionally (or constantly) scanning the different satellites in the sky with their FTA receiver(s) to see if anything new shows up. Sometimes new channels will appear (or disappear) without warning.
The FTA described in this article is for what is known as the Ku band of FTA, and only requires a one meter dish. There is another world of FTA available in the United States called C-band FTA, but this requires a very very large satellite dish, at least 6 feet in diameter. But that is an article for another time.
Take a look at the list of channels, and see if anything sparks your fancy. Then pull the trigger if it makes sense to you!