WildBlue Eyes a June Launch

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After years of delays, WildBlue Communications said it will launch its satellite-delivered high-speed Internet access service in June.

Targeting 20 million households in rural towns that don’t have access to broadband cable-modem or digital subscriber line services from cable MSOs or telephone companies, WildBlue said the service will initially be available through members of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

Bijou Telephone Cooperative, which provides telephone and dial-up Internet services to about 2,500 customers along the I-70 corridor that runs from Denver to Limon Colo., will be the first NRTC member to install the service.

WildBlue plans to offer three tiers of service. Its $49.99 Value Pack offer will give customers speeds of up to 512 Kbps; Select Pack offers speeds up to 1 Mpbs for $69.95 per month; and for $79.95 monthly, subscribers can get speeds of up to 1.5 Mpbs.

Subscribers also must pay $299 for equipment, which includes a 28-by-26-inch “Minidish” satellite capable of both sending and receiving signals from the WildBlue satellite, and a modem. Installation charges cost an additional $179.95, but WildBlue said free installation will be offered by NRTC members as part of a rollout promotion.

The WildBlue packages cost more than what telephone companies and cable MSOs charge for high-speed access, but WildBlue will have the only high-speed service available in most of the communities it will enter.

EchoStar Communications Corp., which has long sought to offer its customers a high-speed data service that would help it compete against broadband products from its cable competitors, was an original investor in WildBlue, which scrapped plans for an initial public offering in 2001. EchoStar wrote down its investment in WildBlue in 2002, and said at the time that it wouldn’t put any more money into the company.

Denver-based WildBlue had originally planned to launch its broadband satellite service in 2002, but the rollout was delayed because of financing problems.

Investors in WildBlue include NRTC, Intelsat Ltd., Liberty Media Corp. and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Cable veteran and Liberty Media senior vice president Tony Werner sits on the WildBlue board of directors.

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