|Hmmm, Frank, I missed this one when it was fresh.|
Yes, Free-to-Air is one of those neat new technologies that get rediscovered now and then. I note rediscovered because some of us older folks can go back into the deep recesses of our memory holes and recall previous instances.
What young whippersnappers forget is that there was a time, long long ago, when people in cities didn't have cable. In order to watch TV, they had to use a thingie called an antenna. While it was sometimes possible to use an indoor contraption usually called "rabbit ears", best performance came from outdoor ones. And for a time, antennas were actually common appurtenances on homes. Not modern subscription satellite dishes, of course. But log-periodic VHF and bowtie UHF antennas.
And TV "stations", as they were called, transmitted from tall towers to these antennas. In New York, the transmitters were on the Empire State Building, and for a time the World Trade Center. And there were several of these stations, one for each of the major networks, a few "public" or "educational" ones, and a few "independent" ones that mostly showed old TV shows and movies. Kind of like the basic tier channels today, minus the PEG channels.
That long-forgotten technology was "free to air" (FTA) television. It is just now being rediscovered by today's young pioneers, the adventurous but frugal few members of the MySpace, er, Facebook generation who find their needs satisfied with relatively few luxuries. Like the fashionable folk who have moved to the now-trendy "SoBro" (on the site of the once-scary South Bronx), FTA-viewer pioneers "just say no" to the cable company, the phone company's TV option, and the satellite services.
They take advantage of an ancient federal rule that provides favorable cable-system placement to channels that continue to operate FTA transmitters, which were recently replaced with a new "DTV" variety that even offers high definition. They pay no video bills and just watch the stuff that their digital TVs pick up off of antennas, which nowadays are mostly just UHF (though a few VHF transmitters still operate). And yes, it's so easy that a person who can't even install their own copy of Windows can probably set up a "DIY" FTA receiving arrangement, though professional help is still advised if climbing on a steeply-slanted roof is required.