Free-To-Air receivers generally use the same technology standards (such as DVB-S, MPEG-2) as those used by pay-TV networks such as Echostar's Dish Network and BCE's Bell TV.
FTA receivers, however, lack the smartcard readers or decryption modules designed for the reception of pay-TV programming, since the receivers are designed only for reception of unencrypted transmissions.
Terrestrial broadcasters use some of the nearly 30 North American satellites to transmit their feeds for internal purposes.
These unencrypted feeds can then be received by anyone with the proper decoder.
band (Galaxy 18, 123°W) and one C-band satellite feed as a key part of its Equity C. Programming such as the Retro Television Network or Retro Jams had been provided at various times; music video broadcasters Mas Música and The Tube were formerly available at 123°W before being taken over (Mas Música is now MTV3) or ceasing operations.
Similarly, unencrypted K band satellite television was also used temporarily in the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina as a means to feed NBC programming into New Orleans from the studios of an out-of-state broadcaster; the feeds contained the content, branding and station identification of the damaged New Orleans station in a form suitable for direct feed to a transmitter (with no further studio processing) in the target market.
This "card swap" process can provide pay-TV operators with more effective control over pirate decryption, but at the expense of replacing smart cards in all existing subscribed receivers.
In theory, a viewer in Glendive, Montana (the smallest North American TV market) could have received what little local CBS and NBC programming is available terrestrially, alongside a K band free-to-air dish for additional commercial networks (such as individual ABC and Fox TV affiliates from Equity Broadcasting, formerly at 123°W) and educational programming (PBS Satellite Service at 125°W).
There is no assurance that any individual FTA broadcast will remain available or that those which do remain will continue broadcast in a compatible format - in this example, such a viewer would have lost ABC and Fox in mid-2009 due to Equity's bankruptcy.
The PBS Satellite Service offers educational programming on K As there is no standard MPEG audio on many of these channels, the AC3-only feeds require a Dolby Digital-capable receiver. Channels include PBS-HD/PBS-X as well as various secondary programmes normally carried on digital subchannels of PBS terrestrial member stations.
The main PBS New York feed is absent from the free-to-air version of the PBS satellite service to afford local terrestrial member stations a chance to broadcast material before it becomes available on PBS-X or PBS-HD.
A free-to-air or FTA Receiver is a satellite television receiver designed to receive unencrypted broadcasts.