Intro to digital 101

StarBand Communications Inc. is doing its part to close the digital divide. In September, the McLean, Va.-based company loaded satellite equipment and computers on the backs of mules and sent them 8 miles down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon to hook up the Havasupai Indian tribe that lives there to its two-way, high-speed, always-on, satellite-based Internet service.

StarBand, which officially launched its service last week, worked with Northern Arizona University and the Southwest Navajo Nation Virtual Alliance to link 120 Navajo, Hopi and Havasupai reservations to its service.

"The tribe's remote location made it difficult to access technology, which made it hard to get college degrees," said Sally Tilousi, director of the tribe's Head Start school.

The Havasupai tribe is just one of the remote groups that StarBand will be able to reach with super-fast Internet service. With uplinks to satellites whose signals blanket the nation, StarBand can reach mountains in Montana and deserts in California, places no cable operator has chosen to lay fiber.

A subsidiary of Israeli satellite company Gilat Satellite Networks, the company was formerly named Gilat-to-Home. It launched last week with the slogan "Just Look Up" because anyone with a southern view will be able to have broadband Internet access, said StarBand President David Trachtenberg.

The service is fast. StarBand says users will be able to download data at speeds up to 500 kb/s, 10 times faster than a 56K modem. Upload speeds average 150 kb/s. A single dish can service five to 10 computers, but too many computers on the line degrade the speed, according to StarBand Founder Zur Feldman.

StarBand's partners are EchoStar Communications Corp., Microsoft and ING Furman Selz Investors. EchoStar and Microsoft have invested $50 million each.

A StarBand subscription starts at $69.99 per month. The StarBand Model 180 is $399; installation, $199. Echostar will offer the service through its 23,000 dealers. StarBand has 7,000 stores lined up to sell the service.

Microsoft will offer the service through Radio Shack. Customers will be able to buy a Compaq PC with installed cards that will allow access to satellite Internet service. Subscription cost for the service is $59.95 per month, with a $199.95 installation fee (which is waived during the initial offer).

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.