While today's hot DTH marketplace makes for an exciting story, this is an industry with a history unknown to most. It is a story of an industry which was never supposed to exist. An industry born out of the genius of a Stanford University college professor and publicized by ham radio conversations. An industry that defied all odds to grow from the backyards of techies and early adapters to today's multi-billion dollar first-line competitor to the cable monopoly in America. And, it is the story of an industry comprised of thousands of entrepreneurs who kept the dream alive during long periods of traumatic political and marketplace upheaval.
Come with us now as we look at the people, the events, and the evolution of the technology.
1945 Arthur C. Clark's Dream
The entire satellite communications industry -- not just the DTH segment -- can trace its common heritage to one man. That man is the noted futurist and author Arthur C. Clark. Long before Clark was to take us to the farthest reaches of the universe in his legendary epic "2001: A Space Odyssey," he penned a paper entitled, "Extraterrestrial Relays." Published in October 1945 by "Wireless World Magazine," this article advanced a theory that world-wide communications could be accomplished by placing three space platforms into special orbits 22,300 miles above the equator. Clark explained that at this altitude, the platforms would orbit the earth at exactly the same speed as the earth turned -- thus they would appear to remain motionless in space when viewed from the ground.
Obviously, Clark's paper was far ahead of its time. The world had yet to see the widespread development of TV -- let alone the ability to place any object, much less a large communications platform, into orbit. The world would have to wait a dozen years before the first man-made object, Sputnik, found its way into orbit. This basketball-sized satellite carried a transmitter which delivered a non-stop Morris code-based political message touting the technological superiority of the Soviet Union. Spurred into action, America embarked on one of the largest technology development programs in history. The $20-plus billion space program saw the United States not only put men on the moon, but also lead to the development of Intelsat, an international consortium which deployed a network of geostationary communications satellites. In fact, the very first live global television broadcast - the realization of Clark's dream - came as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in July of 1969.
By the mid-1970's, this same satellite technology was being widely utilized by private companies such as Western Union, AT&T, and RCA to support the rapidly growing telecommunications needs of the United States. In addition to telephony/data circuits and program links for television networks, the geostationary satellite was about to play a key role in the growth of the cable television industry -- at the time a nascent industry involved in the delivery of over-the-air TV signals to subscribers.
HBO Moves to Satellite, Taylor Howard Builds a Dish
In 1976, premium programmer HBO made history when it initiated satellite delivery of programming to cable headends with the heavyweight boxing battle dubbed, "The Thriller From Manila." The move by HBO was followed quickly by Ted Turner, who began uplinking his heretofore unknown Atlanta UHF-TV station, now known as WTBS. Turner branded it America's Station, and the superstation was born. 1977 saw Pat Robertson launch the first satellite-delivered basic cable service -- CBN Cable Network -- the predecessor of The Family Channel.
While all this was being done with cable operators in mind, Stanford University Professor Emeritus H. Taylor Howard was also busy in his garage. Howard, a lead scientist on several interplanetary NASA probes along with key communications systems on the Apollo Program, was soon to build the first...