The Ku-Band, most commonly known as DSS (Digital Satellite System), is one of the two types of satellite television networks currently available in the United States. DSS programming is available from DirecTV and EchoStar’s Dish Network. DSS can be seen as a television viewer’s dream. It requires only an 18″ dish and gives one access to a few hundred channels from several satellites. Additionally, digital technology generally means better quality reception (although this reception is sometimes compromised as it is subject to interference from heavy rain, snow or nearby trees). But there is one important factor that a Jamaican must heed – satellite television companies are prohibited from offering this service outside of the United States.
Recently, legislation was put in place in an attempt to update US copyright laws and to make those laws compliant with World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Treaties. Then how is it, you may ask, that Jamaicans are able to obtain this service?
To answer this question we will take you through the rudimentaries of digital satellite technology. The Staff of the Fair Trading Commission understands this process to be as follows: Programming comes to broadcast companies such as DirecTV from content providers (CNN, ESPN, etc.) via satellite, fiber optic cable and/or special digital tape. Television broadcasting companies gather programming content; ensure its digital quality and convert it into a signal. The resulting signal is then transmitted to satellites, located in geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the earth. The satellites re-transmit the signal back down to each customer’s satellite dish. A spot beam is used to send the signal to the United States (U.S.), but areas in close proximity to the U.S., such as Jamaica and other Caribbean territories, are also able to receive this signal.
Persons in Jamaica can illegitimately gain access to the signal received by using a small satellite dish, a digital integrated receiver/decoder (IRD) and a remote control. The satellite dish acts as an antenna, as it receives the satellite broadcast signal, while the IRD separates each channel, as well as decompresses and translates the digital signal so a television can show it.
The broadcast signal ‘being illegitimately received by privately owned equipment is encrypted, however, so that only its intended receiver is able to decipher. It is our understanding that persons are able to find their way around this by placing a smart card inside the digital integrated receiver to decrypt the signal received. This process is commonly referred to in the United States as ‘signal theft’.
To eliminate signal theft, DirecTV and Dish Network engineers employ various counteractive methods, such as broadcasting hostile signals that instruct the Satellite receivers to cause unauthorized access cards to stop working. As a result, persons using the DSS system in Jamaica may find that, periodically, they are effectively blocked from viewing the channels that they had illicitly obtained. Intervals could vary from a few days to several weeks. Once this situation occurs, persons are forced to have their cards re-programmed.
The Staff has received several complaints with regard to DSS service. Informants complain about the service with which they are provided, as the video / audio feed that they receive on the channels to which they have access become indecipherable every few days.
The Staff advises consumers that this is an unavoidable risk that you take when you purchase a DSS system in Jamaica. Broadcasting companies have the right to protect their property from theft; and have done so by installing the mechanism to prevent unauthorized access to their signals.