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HNS Pops AOL Plus Powered by DirecPC

Hughes Network Systems last week announced the hardware and service launch of AOL Plus Powered by DirecPC, a service that provides America Online Inc. customers with a means to connect to the new broadband service via satellite.

AOL Plus offers exclusive broadband content, as well as enriched entertainment from such programmers as Cable News Network,, and The Weather Channel's

Although HNS has offered DirecPC high-speed Internet service since 1995, the new AOL Plus service requires a modem upgrade. Last week, HNS started shipping new systems to national retailer Circuit City and a number of independent satellite dealers and consumer electronics stores.

Office Depot will be added before the end of the year.

Suggested retail for the new DirecPC hardware is $149. Within the next week, HNS also plans to ship a standalone replacement modem that allows current DirecPC customers to upgrade to the AOL Plus service. Pricing for the modem has not yet been set, said HNS consumer division executive vice president Paul Gaske.

Consumers that want a single satellite dish for both their PC-based DirecPC service and their television-based DirecTV Inc. service can buy a DirecDuo system for $199. Through the holiday season, standard installation on either a DirecPC or DirecDuo system is available for free through promotional offers funded by both HNS and DirecTV.

Over the past 12 months, about half of new DirecPC customers have opted for DirecDuo systems, Gaske said.

The newest DirecPC hardware offers high-speed satellite downloads but still employs a telephone return path. HNS plans to introduce a two-way broadband DirecPC system later this year, following alpha tests already under way. Pricing has not been set, but Gaske noted that the two-way system would be more expensive. Upgrade programs will be offered to existing customers.

AOL Plus Powered by DirecPC is priced at $19.95 per month, in addition to the monthly $21.95 service fee charged to all AOL subscribers. Pricing has not been set for the two-way DirecPC service, but Gaske said the company wants to keep the cost competitive with cable modems and digital subscriber line services.

Print advertising for AOL Plus Powered by DirecPC was planned for
USA Today
, the
Wall Street Journal

and other major newspapers, as well as computer and general-interest consumer magazines.

AOL also will promote the new service online to its 26 million subscribers.

DirecTV and AOL competitor Microsoft WebTV Networks Inc. last week announced pricing for their UltimateTV service, which will deliver digital video recording and Internet access over the television to DirecTV subscribers.

For $9.95, consumers can record up to 35 hours of digital video and access three hours of Internet service. For an additional $5 a month, consumers can access their own Internet service provider from the television.