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Dotcast Joins iBlast, Geocast TV Fray

Move over Geocast Network Systems and iBlast, there's a third entrant in the race to deliver broadband content through TV signals to PCs or TVs.

Dotcast Inc., a Palo Alto, Calif., start-up, recently completed a second round of financing, giving it $80 million to create a national wireless broadband network.

New investors include The Walt Disney Co., GE Equity, Quantum Corp. and Worldview Technology Partners. Intel Capital and Angel Investors L.P. also increased their stakes in the company.

Dotcast plans to utilize current analog and future digital-TV spectrum to distribute content. It would broadcast as much as 200 billion bytes per day at speeds 100 times faster than 56 kilobits per second, the company said.

Using the analog signal, Dotcast said it could achieve speeds of 4.5 megabits per second. Employing a TV station's digital signal, Dotcast said it could deliver speeds of up to 10 megabits.

Dotcast joins an increasingly crowded field of companies seeking to deliver broadband content using a TV station's signal directly to PCs or TVs. Consumers would buy a server device and attach it to their PCs to view the downloaded content.

That content could range from downloadable audio and video files to game software applications, educational materials or electronic-commerce and communications services, Dotcast said.

But Dotcast enters a market with formidable competitors. iBlast represents 225 TV stations covering 90 percent of the country. Founding partners include Cox Enterprises, Gannett Co., Lee Enterprises, McGraw-Hill Cos., Media General Inc., Meredith Corp., The New York Times Co., Northwest Broadcasting, E.W. Scripps Co., Smith Broadcasting Group, Tribune Broadcasting and The Washington Post Co.

Geocast is funded by Hearst-Argyle Television Inc., Belo, Allbritton Communications, Thomson Multimedia, Royal Philips Electronics, Liberty Media Group. and Electronic Arts Inc.

Geocast signed a deployment deal with EchoStar Communications Corp. in October to deliver broadband services to PC users through Dish Network, starting in the third quarter of 2001. Subscribers would access personalized content from local and national sources, including information, entertainment, e-commerce and downloadable software and music.

But Dotcast is the first entity to raise money from one of the big four networks-ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox. Disney owns ABC; GE Equity is a sister company to NBC under the General Electric Co. ownership banner.

"The most significant difference for us is our ability to use the analog infrastructure," said Jim Elder, a Dotcast spokesman. Despite the funding from Disney, the company announced no deals with broadcasters.

"Broadcasters are an integral part of the service," Elder acknowledged.

Content on the Dotcast network would originate from a national network operations center and be sent via satellite to individual broadcast stations, Elder said.

From there, the content would be distributed through a station's over-the-air TV signal to proxy devices that sit along side a consumer's TV or PC. Dotcast claims the wireless feed bypasses an increasingly clogged last-mile Internet, providing more consumers with faster service than DSL or cable-modem providers can deliver.