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Geocast throws data curveball

After a quiet summer, Geocast finally announced a deal that gives the
data-broadcasting firm the national distribution it sorely lacked. The only
problem: It's not with a broadcaster.

Instead, Menlo Park, Calif.-based Geocast will rely on DBS operator
EchoStar to deliver its proposed multimedia service nationwide. The agreement,
first reported in Broadcasting & Cablelast week, gives Geocast 12 Mb/s of
EchoStar's spectrum to distribute rich content to EchoStar's DISH Network
customers starting in third quarter 2001. The service will be received by a
standard EchoStar system and pumped to a "GeoBox," a PC peripheral device with
a 40-gigabyte hard drive that will store the material and connect to a PC for

"We're bringing edge-server technology directly to the desktop," says
Geocast Chairman and CEO Joe Horowitz.

"The Geocast service is extremely complementary to our overall broadband
strategy," adds EchoStar Senior Vice President of Technology Mark Jackson,
referring to EchoStar's efforts with Microsoft's WebTV Networks and
Internet-over-satellite firms Starband and Wildblue.

Technically, the proposed Geocast/ EchoStar service is impressive for
its throughput and storage capacities. But the satellite play by Geocast also
reflects the uncertainty of broadcasters' plans to use the DTV spectrum to
deliver high-speed data services to PC users.

Geocast, after all, was the first DTV datacasting company to make a
splash when it signed spectrum deals with Hearst-Argyle and Belo a year ago.
Geocast executives spoke of the power of the DTV spectrum to deliver
high-quality content directly to consumers, and Hearst-Argyle and Belo
executives trumpeted the new revenue stream. Those partnerships were followed
by content deals with Liberty Media and Electronic Arts, an agreement with
Thomson Consumer Electronics to make a $299 receiver, and another spectrum deal
with station group Allbritton Communications that extended Geocast's coverage
to 37% of the country.

But Geocast has been unable to reach new broadcast deals, according to
industry sources. Management suffered a hiccup, too, when satellite and cable
veteran Jim Ramo joined the company in January as president and CEO and then
resigned over the summer. And Geocast has faced questions over the DTV
transmission standard's ability to deliver datacasting services.

Horowitz says Geocast is still committed to a terrestrial DTV service;
it is conducting field trials and plans to launch DTV datacasts by third
quarter 2001. He denies that the EchoStar deal is a change in direction. "Our
original business plan was to provide the consumer with multiple paths of

Hearst-Argyle Chairman and co-CEO Bob Marbut, who also sits on Geocast's
board, says that, until there is industry consensus on the transmission
standard, "we won't have the progress in terrestrial digital television that we
all hoped."

But Hearst-Argyle is testing Geocast's terrestrial DTV service at kcra
Sacramento, Calif., and Marbut confirms a 2001 launch. "Like any UHF signal
going into the home, it doesn't work with every home with rabbit ears. But
that's not to say that there won't be continuous improvement in other