WildBlue Lands Backers

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WildBlue Communications Inc. got an early Christmas present in the form of a $156 million funding round that includes a 30 percent investment from satellite operator Intelsat.

Intelsat will gain a 30 percent investment stake in WildBlue, which is trying to launch a Ka-band satellite high-speed Internet service in 2004.

The service would be available to customers in the lower 48 states, aiming for predominantly rural markets where digital-subscriber-line and cable-modem service don't reach.

Other companies ponying up for the investment round include Liberty Satellite and Technology Inc. and the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative, an organization hoping to bank on WildBlue's service to offer broadband service to its membership.

The investments are good news for WildBlue at a time when the market is not looking kindly on satellite-broadband service.

Rival satellite service StarBand Communications Inc. has been up and running for about two years, but it has struggled to establish itself among other broadband competitors and has acquired a modest 40,000 customers.

StarBand also had a falling out with distribution partner EchoStar Communications Corp., which stopped marketing the broadband-satellite service this past spring amid complaints of poor service and slow subscriber growth.

Nevertheless, WildBlue plans to launch service using licensed space aboard a Telsat Canada satellite due to launch in late 2003. After that, it plans to launch its own bird.

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