FTA is in some circumstances delivered by satellite television, but in many different areas of the world free-to-air television channels are actually broadcast unencrypted on UHF or VHF bands. Despite the fact that these channels are described as free, in some cases the viewer may have to pay for them. Some of these channels are paid directly by payment of a licence fee, for example the BBC or by voluntary donation for example PBS. Others indirectly pay by paying for consumer products and services where a portion of the cost will be used for television advertising and sponsorship.
Free-to-air is typically used for international broadcasting, making it in some way a video equivalent of shortwave radio. Most authorized FTA retailers will list free to air channel guides and content available in North America for free to air use.
There are many competing systems currently in use. Many of the older channels used C-band satellite dishes of several feet in diameter to receive signals which were at first analogue microwaves, and then digital microwave using the 3.9-4.2 GHz band. Currently, in the 11.7-12.2 GHz Ku band enables the use of under one-meter dishes chiefly with the DVB-S standard. Hence FTA can now be used from apartment balconies.
The most prevalent North American sources for free-to-air DVB satellite television include:
- NASA TV Multi-channel(NASA HD, NASA Public, NASA Media, NASA Education) Broadcast on AMC 6 (72°W)
- Retro Television Network on AMC 9 (83°W)
- TVU Music channel and This TV on AMC 3 (87°W)
- ABC News Now on Galaxy 28 (89°W)
- Eternal Word Television Network on Galaxy 17 (91°W)
- My Family TV on Galaxy 3C (95°W).
- AMGTV and BYU Television on Galaxy 19 (97°W)
- English and foreign language broadcasters RT (TV network), MHz Worldview, Ebru TV, IRINN, Al Jazeera English and more up-linked by GlobeCast World TV on Galaxy 25 (97°W)
- Christian broadcasters The Word Network, Emmanuel TV, Daystar Television Network, JCTV, Trinity Broadcasting Network, The Church Channel, God’s Learning Channel and more promoted by Glorystar & Spiritcast Satellite Systems TV on Galaxy 25 (97°W)
- Pentagon Channel on AMC 1 (103°W)
- Jewish Life Television, Research Channel, and University of Washington TV on Galaxy 18 (123°W)
- Montana Public Broadcasting Service on AMC 21 (125°W)
- Louisiana Connection Network on Galaxy 13 (127°W)
- White Springs Television on Galaxy 27 (129°W)
- Classic Arts Showcase on Galaxy 15 (133°W)
- Football, Basketball, Baseball, Soccer, and Hockey wildfeeds on various satellites
Many of these signals are carried by United States satellites. There is a small number of or no free Canadian DVB-S content available to users of medium-size dishes as much of the available Ku-band satellite bandwidth is used by pay-TV operators Shaw Direct and Bell TV, however the large style dish of over 3 feet/90cm does have a few additional options. FTA signals may be dispersed across multiple satellites needing a motor or multiple LNBs to receive everything.
Free-to-air satellite TV is a feasible addition to any home video system, not simply because of the specialized content it makes available but also for use in areas where terrestrial ATSC over-the-air reception is not at acceptable levels and additional channels are required.