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EchoStar's Hughes Starts Selling Next-Gen Satellite Broadband

EchoStar’s Hughes Network Systems is now marketing satellite Internet service with speeds up to 15 Megabits per second -- which will compete with similarly priced broadband packages bundled with TV service from partner Dish Network.

Like Dish, Hughes is targeting the HughesNet Gen4 service to consumers in areas where high-speed landline connections are not available.

The service offers dramatically increased speeds over previous satellite Internet services, delivered via the EchoStar XVII satellite that launched in July. The Ka-band satellite, built by Space Systems/Loral, is designed to provide more than 100 Gigabits per second of capacity to HughesNet's Internet customers.

Dish has a deal with Hughes to resell the HughesNet Gen4 service, with a max speed of 10 Mbps, under the new dishNET brand.

Hughes is offering a special introductory rate of $49.99 per month (normally $59.99 monthly) through the end of 2012 for its entry-level service that promises 10 Megabits per second down and 1 Mbps up, capped at 20 Gigabytes per second of total usage per month.

The HughesNet “Power Pro” plan is $79.99 per month for 10 Mbps down/2 Mbps up capped at 30 GB, while the “Power Max” plan is $99.99 per month for 15 Mbps down/2 Mbps up capped at 40 GB.

All of the HugheNet Gen4 plans require a two-year contract. Hughes also is providing an upgrade program for existing customers and free installation for customers who elect to lease equipment. The service is not available in certain parts of the U.S., primarily in Western states.

The dishNET satellite broadband is available in two tiers: 5 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up for $39.99 per month (plus equipment fees) with usage capped at 10 GB when bundled with Dish’s America’s Top 120 or higher programming packages and a two-year contract; and a 10 Mbps down/1 Mbps up plan capped at 20 GB per month for $49.99 per month, comparable to Hughes’ entry-level plan.

The relatively low bandwidth caps with both the Hughes and Dish services make them unattractive for users looking to stream large amounts of online video. The Federal Communications Commission lets ISPs implement bandwidth caps and usage-based pricing under its Open Internet order, but FCC chairman Julius Genachowski has said the agency is keeping an eye on caps and that consumers need sufficient "monthly" broadband capacity.

“Our new fourth-generation high-speed satellite Internet service is an industry game changer, allowing customers to do more of what they love online, from shopping and social networking to movies and music,” Mike Cook, senior vice president of Hughes’ North American division, said in a statement.

Dish is providing the dishNET satellite services through both Hughes and ViaSat. Asked about potential conflict with those companies’ broadband offerings, Dish vice president of product management Vivek Khemka said in an interview last week that the operator’s strategy “is to go after the bundled customer… [ViaSat and Hughes] understand what we are doing.”

EchoStar acquired Hughes Communications for $1.3 billion in February 2011.

Germantown, Md.-based Hughes claims to be the worldwide market leader in high-speed satellite Internet service, having shipped more than 2.8 million systems to customers in more than 100 countries.