The Development of Cable and Satellite

Friday, April 16, 2004, at 12:14PM

By Eric Richardson

(This post is part of a series on FCC regulation of indecency. To see the whole series, click on the FCC Category.)

With the introduction of cable, broadcast slowly started to lose its prominence. This wasn't what it was meant to do. Initially cable was simply a means to get the broadcast channels to homes that for reasons of terrain were unable to receive them. The first cable companies consisted of a central antenna which through size or location was able to pick up the broadcasts. The channels were then sent over cables to homes which paid to be hooked up to the system. Over time cable evolved, adding channels from farther away, and then channels that weren't broadcast anywhere. A fundamental characteristic of cable systems is the requirement that the user pays the cable company to deliver programming to their home.

Satellite -- which in this case we're using to mean just DBS services such as DirecTV and Dish Network -- developed much later but shares this same characteristic. The user pays not just for the hardware, but also for a subscription. While satellite is "broadcast" in that the signal is wirelessly sent via the spectrum, the signals are useless without a subscription, which serves as a key to decoding the digital signal and accessing its content.