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In 1955 the BBC set up a television station in Belfast. The IBA awarded an ITV franchise to Ulster Television Limited three years later for a station in Belfast. These stations could be received far into the Republic of Ireland. And they were! On Ulster Televisions opening night, complaints to the Belfast based outfit were mainly from Dublin about the reception!
Even after Telifis Eireann was set up in 1961, people in Dublin continued to watch the BBC and UTV (as Ulster Television became known in the South, though it would not officially change its name to that until 1993). But everyone agreed that something would have to be done about that bad reception. Thus RTE set up a cable company - RTE Relays, which later became Cablelink - to give perfect BBC and UTV reception to Dublin. Then the people in Cork got jealous, and wanted their own cable company. So Cork Communications Ltd was formed.
During the 1970s cable began to expand to towns outside Dublin. Generally these cable franchises were taken up by local electrical stores or aerial contractors, who wanted to replace an aerial sales. In 1976 the first local programmes were transmitted via cable in Dublin, and in 1986 satellite television programmes began to be transmitted in addition to RTE/BBC/IBA programmes. In the period 1989-1993, the 1989 launch of the wireless Multipoint Microwave Distribution System triggered off a wave of consolidation in the cable/MMDS industry. Four companies - Cablelink, Cable Management Ireland, Princes Holdings(which later began trading as Irish Multichannel), and Suir Nore Relays - gained control of the majority of the Republic's cable industry.
Today almost the entire Republic of Ireland is either covered by a cable system, or within the reach of an MMDS transmitter. Indeed MMDS was set up by the Irish government in 1989 to provide BBC and ITV signals to the Republics rural areas. The same year, Sky began a Direct Broadcast by Satellite system to the whole island of Ireland. Today, about 50,000 households subscribe to Sky. But thats small change compared to the amount that receive Sky stations on the Cable and MMDS networks. MMDS has been slow to takeoff thanks to exorbirent installation fees (over £200) and illegal deflectors operating cheaper
Meanwhile the North too got a cable company as CableTel (now NTL) romped on the scene in 1996, twenty years after Ulster Cablevision had first won the license. But without the Southern stations to distinguish them from Sky theyve had to rely on selling phone subscriptions. Meanwhile in 1998 Digital came to Ireland with the launch of the SkyDigital service to silence in the Republic (who can blame us - we initally had to pay nearly £450 for equipment+installation) and applause in the North. Meanwhile ONdigital began offering Digital Terrestrial services. And the Republic? Well we might get DTT for Christmas 2002 if were very lucky...but dont hold your breath.
1999 saw a second wave of cable consolidation in Ireland. Cablelink was taken over by NTL after a protracted takeover battle. In response to this the remaining Irish-owned companies came together, with IMC taking over Suir Nore and (indirectly) CMI. This means that there are now just two major cable/MMDS companies in Ireland, competing against Sky and DTT. Sky launched its free equipment offer in Ireland in 2000, bringing it directly into the Irish market.