WildBlue Sets June Launch

After years of delays, WildBlue Communications Inc. said it will launch its satellite-delivered high-speed Internet-access service in June.

Targeting 20 million households in rural towns that don’t have access to broadband cable-modem and digital-subscriber-line services from cable MSOs and telephone companies, WildBlue said the service will initially be available through members of the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

Bijou Telephone Cooperative -- which provides telephone and dial-up Internet services to about 2,500 customers along the I-70 corridor that runs from Denver to Limon, Colo. -- will be the first NRTC member to install the service.

WildBlue plans to offer three tiers of service. Its $49.99 “Value Pack” offer will give customers speeds of up to 512 kilobits per second; “Select Pack” offers speeds up to 1 megabit per second for $69.95 monthly; and for $79.95 monthly, subscribers can get speeds of up to 1.5 mbps.

Subscribers also must pay $299 for equipment, which includes a 28-by-26-inch “Minidish” satellite dish capable of both sending and receiving signals from the WildBlue satellite and a modem. Installation charges cost an additional $179.95, but WildBlue said free installation will be offered by NRTC members as part of a rollout promotion.

The WildBlue packages cost more than what telephone companies and cable MSOs charge for high-speed access, but WildBlue will have the only high-speed service available in most of the communities it will enter.

EchoStar Communications Corp. -- which has long sought to offer its customers a high-speed-data service that would help it to compete against broadband products from its cable competitors -- was an original investor in WildBlue, which scrapped plans for an initial public offering in 2001. EchoStar wrote down its investment in WildBlue in 2002, and the direct-broadcast satellite company said at the time that it wouldn’t put any more money into the company.

Denver-based WildBlue had originally planned to launch its broadband-satellite service in 2002, but the rollout was delayed by financing problems.

Investors in WildBlue include the NRTC, Intelsat Ltd., Liberty Media Corp. and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Cable veteran and Liberty senior vice president Anthony Werner sits on WildBlue’s board of directors.