There are many claims to the first CATV system, but only one thing is for certain; it originated in the United States and, according to one famous recollection, cable television had its beginning in 1948 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. Community antenna iptv premium, as it was then called, was invented by John and Margaret Walson out of a necessity to bring television to their customers. They owned The Service Electric Company, a company designed to sell, install, and repair appliances. When they started selling television sets in 1947 their Mahanoy City customers were reluctant to buy because of reception issues. This particular region of Pennsylvania had difficulties picking up the stations in nearby Philadelphia due to the mountains that surrounded them.
To solve this problem, Walson installed an antenna on a utility pole that he placed on a local mountain top. It allowed him to demonstrate that the televisions could pick up good broadcasts coming from some of the Philadelphia stations using modified signal boosters and cable to connect the antenna to his store. So, in 1948, he charged a small fee and connected the antenna to several of his customers’ homes as well, marking the beginning of the cable television business.
The early 1950s saw further development of the cable system. By then, the FCC had released its hold on a three year long freezing of new television station construction and had “assigned a nationwide television broadcasting plan”, leading to the fairly rapid development of new television stations. Department stores began to encourage television viewing by displaying several different models for sale. Of course, this meant that television antennas had to also be sold. At the time, each home or apartment required its own antenna, creating a somewhat unsightly “forest of antennas” on the roofs of some apartment buildings.
This prompted Milton Jerrold Shapp to create a system that used only one master antenna for an entire building. He did so using coaxial cable and signal boosters, enabling the cable to carry several signals at once. Not too long after that, another appliance store owner experiencing the same problem as that of the Walsons read about Mr Shapp’s system. Figuring that, if it could work for apartments and department stores, it could work for an entire town as well and he set up the first cable television system similar to how we know it today.
Because of Mr Shapp’s innovative new system, television spread like wild fire throughout the country, enabling remote and rural areas to receive a signal and “by 1952, 70 ‘cable’ systems served 14,000 subscribers nationwide”. But, of course, people would not remain content with allowing the cable system simply to be used as a means of providing better signal strength to rural areas.
Toward the end of the decade, cable operators began using technologies to pick up signals from stations hundreds of miles away, irreversibly changing the way the cable and television industry operated. This new found ability to import more signals from distant stations also allowed for more programming choices. Now, the cable systems that only allowed for three channels (one for each network) soon changed, allowing room for seven or more channels due to the fact that they could pick up programs from distant independent stations (2). This created more interest in cable as a provider for city television as well because of the variety in choices it allowed.
By the early 1960s there were nearly 800 cable network systems in business. Many of these cable network companies started expanding into multiple cities, causing the beginning of the multiple system operator (MSO). Yet, the local broadcasters were afraid of the competition that cable companies were creating so they asked the government to stop the importation of signals by cable companies. The freeze that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) placed on the importation of cable signals lasted until 1972.
In 1972 the service channels that people pay an extra premium for were started when Service Electric began to bill for Home Box Office (HBO). It had a minimal beginning with about a few hundred viewers the first night. However, it has become one of the largest pay cable services around. It is because of its success that so many others have followed.
In addition, the craving for more channels led the FCC to issue a rule in 1969 that required “all CATV systems with over 3500 subscribers to have facilities for local origination of programming by April 1, 1971”. Furthermore, in 1976, the FCC decided to require that new systems must have more than 20 channels to choose from and that cable providers that had more than 3500 must provide public channels for education as well as government access.