HOW I ACCIDENTLY INVENTED GEO-FENCING BACK IN 1996

July 23, 2020

My little company, Decisionmark, had created a product called ProximityTV that was used by local television stations to monitor satellite subscribers. DirecTV and DISH would send us their subscriber lists and we would divvy them up and send them off to the stations using floppy disks and the U.S. Postal Service. ProximityTV would then take those subscriber lists and visualize them on a map overlaid with the stations signal area.

At that point, we were building trust with the entire industry. Everybody loved us, except maybe Charlie Ergen

The main output from ProximityTV was something called a “challenge list” which was a list of those subscribers that, instead of getting an east or west coast feed of a major network, should, by law, be getting their local affiliate with an antenna. These were the early days of satellite and everybody was learning to place nice together. Unfortunately, it was the consumer who was stuck in the middle. They just wanted satellite instead of cable and if that meant they had to watch WABC from New York instead of KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, then so be it. At least they were free of cable.

Lots of consumers lost their network programming and they were not happy

So, by solving one problem, my technology had created another one – subscribers were losing network programming in droves. Things got so ugly that people started calling Capitol Hill to complain and that led to Congress working on something called the Satellite Home Viewer Act, or SHVA. The intent of SHVA was to protect localism in a time of disruption (the dawn of satellite TV).

As Capitol Hill started working on legislation, the satellite companies and broadcasters decided, somewhat reluctantly, to try working together on a solution. Some of the most brilliant copyright and communications attorneys ever came together to hammer something out. They came up with something called the Red Light / Green Light settlement, or RL/GL.

If a ZIP Code was deemed RED, satellite could not sell what were called distant network signals. If a ZIP Code was deemed GREEN, it was okay to sell distant network signals

Based on the traction I was having with ProximityTV, both groups decided to bring me in to build Red Light / Green Light. I was thrilled. My engineers and I had become the de facto signal area propagation experts in the industry. The meeting was held in Washington, D.C.

During the meeting, as I sat there listening to both sides discuss the project, I started doodling in my notebook. I was not bored; something was telling me to find a better way to solve the problem. ZIP Codes are for delivering mail, not television.

Entrepreneurs live for moments like that one. My brain was fixated on finding a better way and I knew I was close

To map the subscriber addresses (1) we did something called geo-coding which essentially gives you a longitude latitude point for mapping, so I drew a geo-coder on a blank page in my notebook (2). We had started building a database of station data which we called Coronado, so I drew a database symbol and labeled it Coronado (3).

At some point, I was so fixated on my doodle, that the lead attorney for the broadcast side said, “Mr. Perry, are you still with us?” I was not. I was already building something better.

At around 1PM we broke for lunch, so I grabbed my laptop and headed for the hotel. It was 1996, so to get my email, I had to dial-in from my hotel room and that is when it hit me. I was about to use the Internet (4) to go get data, in my case email.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = Subscriber Authentication, later to become known as geo-fencing

I called the technology Geneva, to connote neutrality and by the end of 1999, DirecTV, DISH, ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS, and every local television affiliate used it. My Geneva patent, U.S. No. 6,147,642 expired a few years back, but it led to 23 more patents, most methods for geo-fencing on the Internet.

Geo-fencing is important because it enables content licensing deals to include territorial exclusivity. In case you are wondering, territorial exclusivity is the backbone of advertising and promotion.