Freesat from Sky (fSfS) dates back to the introduction of Sky's digitalsatellite service back in 1998. It is a service that combines the BSkyB Digibox, Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) and a limited use of Sky SubscriptionServices Ltd (SSSL) encryption services to provide access and listing for hundreds of channels that broadcast via satellite.
Soft or clear?
There are two types of channel on fSfS, those that are in the clear and those that use soft encryption.
The majority of these channels are of the first type. This means that you can, should you wish to, view the programmes on these channels using any European satellite receiver. However, as all Sky customers (including the majority who are subscribers) are guided to channels by three digit numbers, or via the interactive listings, without making an EPG payment to Sky, these channels would be effectively invisible.
All of the BBC television and radio services are broadcast in the clear, as are those of ITV.
There are very few soft encrypted channels, by comparison. These are currently Channel 4, five, Sky Three, five Life and five US. These channels require the use of a Sky Digibox and a card that costs 20+VAT.
The stated purpose of these cards is to ensure that the viewer is within the United Kingdom. To this end, the cards are only supplied to UK addresses (with a limit of four per household) and can only be bought calling from a UK phone line.
However, as the EU Directive Television without Frontiers makes the provision for public service channels to be rebroadcast unencrypted on satellite, there is no need for Channel 4 or five to encrypt.
However, Channel 4 entered into a commercial arrangement with SSSL when the FilmFour channel was a premium subscription one; E4 and More4 are basic-level subscription channels on satellite to this day.
It has been suggested (and Ofcom are still investigating here) that SSSL would use their power over their EPG to place the More4, E4 and Film4 at the bottom if the channels went free-to-air.
five, whilst a public service channel is owned by the European media conglomerate RTL. It may be that RTL sees the leaking of five's transmissions outside the UK as being a threat to other parts of the empire. However, EU law makes it clear that the channel has no requirement to encrypt: any restrictive contracts from the channel's programme suppliers tried to impose would be illegal.
Why did Sky bother with fSfS?
The regulators at the time the ITC (Independent Television Commission) and the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) was determined that Sky should not monopolise the digital satellite system in the way they perhaps had with the analogue one.
Satellite television is intended to be a free market where there are two or more competing companies in each market sector.
Initially the first television satellites such as the famous Telstar were used by broadcast companies to link to overseas. Until their launch, to transport a filmed report around the planet required a courier to get on an aeroplane with the physical film in a bag.
These first satellites were in a low orbit, and this required both the receiver and transmitting stations to be enormous many tens of meters high. They also had to move quite quickly to track the satellites as they zoomed overhead.
The next development was credited to science fiction author Arthur C Clarke. He proposed that if a satellite was put into orbit above the equator at just the right distance 23,000km from the earth it would appear from the ground to be stationary. In fact, it is moving rapidly, but at exactly the same speed that the earth turns.
The UN provided an agreement that satellites in these locations (the Clarke Belt) would be issued on a country-by-country basis. So, for example, the position over the equator at 19.2 degrees east was allocated to Luxembourg.
The power of the transmissions from these satellites was increased so that the receiving dishes could be decreased in size, first to a few meters and eventually to the size of a large dinner plate.
On December 11, 1988, a private Luxembourg company, SES Astra, launched a satellite into the 19.2 east slot. Astra then rented the use of the transponder to other EU companies. Each satellite operates on a number of different frequencies, each frequency approximating to an analogue TV signal.
The BSB bit
The UK too did attempt to use the allocated Clarke Belt slot 31 West but some well intentioned but distinctly unfree market meddling lead to the abandonment of the five channel service.
Whilst the signals from the Marcopolo satellite were stronger (and could be watched with a smaller dish) and the D2-MAC pictures of the highest quality, the service failed.
BSB was set against Sky with their Astra service. The Luxembourg satellite was being leased transponder by transponder to any company that was happy to pay. With a larger customer base, the humongous overhead costs (and associated risks) were shared.
In addition Sky did not attempt to fill every single transponder themselves, so anyone who bought a Sky satellite receiver automatically got all the channels on the satellite. Whilst foreign language services are of little interest to most Brits, multilingual services were a success (for example, Eurosport and Cartoon Network).
The free-market approach also allowed US companies to launch services without having to enter an ITC beauty contest, so MTV Europe, etc
In retrospect, Sky was hailed as a winner and also claimed that support from freemarketeer Prime Minister Thatcher who, it is reported, detested the cosy nature of British TV in the 1980s.
It was somewhat inevitable that demanding that consumers have TWO satellite dishes, TWO incompatible decoders and subscriptions to two companies that there would only be one winner. Over an over consumers demonstrate a dislike of this incompatibility when it is clear that simply making a choice will mean could end up with an expensive doorstop. The videotape war (VHS vs Betamax) was fresh in people minds, today's logical comparison being the recent HD-DVD vs BluRay debacle.
Encryption and subscription
There was another factor that initially gave confidence to BSB that their five channel service would win over Sky. The main reason for the delay in the start of the BSB channels was the encryption technology fitted into the D2-MAC boxes. At this point, all the Sky receivers were free-to-air boxes. BSB though that their encryption and subscription system for The Movie Channel would beat Sky's advertising-only service.
However, a system called VideoCrypt was found and adopted by Sky. Whilst demonstrably inferior to the BSB system, it worked well enough for Sky. In XXX 199X, they announced the Sky Multichannels system, which now required a modest monthly payment to decode a selection of basic channels.
In addition, Sky Movies (and The Movie Channel) and Sky Sports charged a premium for access.
Encryption and the Free Market
There is nothing inherently against the principles of a free market system to provide subscription-funded satellite service.
However, what tends to happen is that consumers are only prepared to deal with a single supplier of encryption (subscription) services, and this makes this company a gatekeeper.
Had 2 recent call outs regarding Sky's new super duper wifi box and their I/O Link, Both had an outdoor proception 4way ir return distributeir fitted.
Their I/O Link seems incompatible with the distributer ?
Anyone else had this ptoblem?
ian from notts: are these the 4 way compact amps that used to get there power from the rf2. The io link doesn't output enough power to run them. If you use a global dc incertor with there power supply that should rectify your problem if you can get one my supplier said he hopes to have them in February that was befor Christmas. Hope that helps.
Guy M: If you are referring to Channel 4 (104), then you should be able to receive this channel without any card being inserted in the box. Try disconnecting the box from the mains for about 30 seconds or so, removing the card before powering the box up again and allowing it to go through its usual "searching for listings" procedure.
If 104 is found to have returned, reinsert the card and check for any changes, the only thing that might have done being that the local news services appropriate to where you reside will have been reinstated, London being the default without any card being inserted.