What we know as satellite tv actually had its origins in the space race which began with the launching of the satellite Sputnik by the Russians in 1957. The first communication satellite was developed and launched by a consortium of business and government entities in 1963. It was known as Syncom II and achieved an orbit at 22,300 miles over the Atlantic. The first satellite communication was between a U.S. Navy ship in the harbor of Lagos, Nigeria and the U.S. Army located at the naval station at Lakehurst, New Jersey on July 26, 1963.
Telephone companies began using satellite communication for communicating as land based distribution methods became overloaded. Television began using satellites on March 1, 1978 when the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) introduced Public Television Satellite Service. Broadcast networks adopted satellite communication as a distribution method from 1978 through 1984. As the use of satellites for communication and broadcast purposes increased, it became evident that everyone had the potential to receive satellite signals for free.
Direct to Home (DTH) satellite receivers were developed in the early 1980's. Rural areas thus gained the capacity to receive television programming that was not capable of being received by standard methods. With the development of television receive only (TVRO), broadcasters began to complain that reception of their signals were being either received illegally or pirated. The position of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was governed by its "open skies' policy. It was the FCC's position that users had as much right to receive satellite signals as broadcasters had the right to transmit them.
The broadcasters, in response to this government policy, began to use developed technologies which allowed them to scramble the signals they were broadcasting. Users, in turn, had to buy a decoder from a satellite program provider that packaged programs similar to the packages provided by cable systems. Ideas began to abound about the potential market for satellite television. The FCC, following the World Administrative Radio Conference of 1979, in 1980 established the plans and policy for a new service, direct broadcast satellite or DBS. This new service was to consist of a broadcast satellite in geostationary orbit, facilities for transmitting signals to the satellite and equipment needed by individuals to access the signals.
Early successful attempts to launch satellites for the mass consumer market were led by Japan and Hong Kong in 1986 and 1990, respectively. The first successful attempt by the United States was made by a group of major cable companies and was named Primestar. Next came Direct TV. Echostar Dish Network entered the market in the Spring of 1996 offering cheaper prices and forcing all of its competitors to do likewise.