A Free to Air satellite system (FTA) refers to a satellite receiver that is configured to receive encrypted FTA satellite transmissions. FTA broadcasts are public domain and you do not have to pay for a subscription to any type of satellite provider (such as DirecTV) to receive them. You can legally receive free satellite television using the FTA receiver.
Before you get too excited, you won't find FTA versions of the likes of ESPN, Showtime or ABC. Most of the FTA channels are religious channels, so if you want to watch hours of The Church Channel or Emmanuel TV, then you're in luck. If Dexter and any of the 17 different CSI shows are more your style, then you'll have to pay. Following is a link containing a list of FTA channels for North America:
To receive FTA satellite channels, you need a FTA receiver, which you can buy at most electronics stores, and a satellite dish that meets the specifics required by the satellite you wish to use. The FTA channels are usually encoded in MPEG-2 video format and are often restricted by geography. Once you have your necessary hardware, you need to mount the satellite dish and align it to pick up the transmissions from the satellite.
And that is the hard part. Unfortunately, with Free to Air satellite, you don't have a friendly technician to come by the house and install it for you. You are going to have to do it on your own. Yeah, I know, it's kind of intimidating. Don't worry. On this site we have a guide for installation.
Once it is installed, you are ready to go. There is no subscription necessary. Enjoy your free channels. Unlike free cable, though, feel free to admit it to people, since you have not violated the law.