FTA 101: Hundreds of channels, free and legal

FortecDishWe’re getting a lot of new visitors, so I thought this might be a good time to talk about the foundation of this blog: free-to-air (FTA) satellite TV. That’s a system providing hundreds of channels that don’t require an internet connection to watch but are completely free and legal.

By the way, when I tell the people I meet about FTA satellite TV, about 10 of every 12 act like I’m talking about an imaginary friend, one guy will reminisce about the C-band dish he used to have, and the last one will say, “I used to subscribe to that, then it got scrambled.” Unfortunately, satellite TV pirates often misused the term “FTA” to refer to their practice of unlawfully, temporarily unlocking pay-TV channels. (How stupid is it to risk $thousands in legal damages to save $20/month on satellite TV by paying a pirate instead of Dish or DirecTV?) Anyway, let me make it clear up front that my use of FTA is its original, positive meaning – unscrambled channels that are free for anyone to watch.

As long-time FTABlog readers know, anyone who can mount a small Ku-band dish with a clear line of sight to the right part of the sky can get an amazing array of FTA TV and radio channels. Not only are there hundreds of regular channels, there are also healthy doses of raw news and sports feeds that you’d never see anywhere else. This whole FTA phenomenom is so exciting that it’s the reason I founded FTAList.com a long time ago, as a resource for keeping track of what’s available and a guide to getting started.

After creating FTAList, I added this blog to write about some of the changes in the channels that were available. Then about three years ago, I began to notice that there were more channels and video content online than on FTA satellite. The few over-the-air stations that had used satellite to relay their signal to cable systems mostly switched to IP-based delivery. New streaming technologies provided other ways to watch distant channels, so that’s often the focus on this blog.

In general, FTA satellite provides a great supplement to local over-the-air viewers (what they used to be called before “cord cutters”). There are two catches. The first is that you won’t find HBO or ESPN; full-time FTA channels tend to be networks you haven’t heard of. The second catch is that the channels come and go as they please. Some FTA channels last for years, some for weeks. That’s why FTAList is there to try to keep track of the changes.

If you want to learn more about this easy way to add lots of channels to your entertainment setup, go visit FTAList and poke around. You might find watching odd, often unique free programming to be as much fun as I did.