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Recovery Act: WildBlue Takes Its Shot

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
8/21/2009
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WildBlue Communications is going after a $30 million slice of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money to help subsidize satellite broadband connections for about 10,000 homes in Colorado and Wyoming and another 10,000 in Arizona that are out of reach of high-speed cable, fiber, and DSL lines. About $15 million of that sum would go toward the Colorado/Wyoming effort, with the rest earmarked for the Arizona project. Lisa Scalpone, WildBlue's SVP of business development, confirmed that the Greenwood Village, Colo.-based service provider has pledged to pitch in $8 million of its own money -- $4 million in Colorado/Wyoming and an equal amount for Arizona – toward the project in the form of "in-kind services" and actual dollars. Under a revised, extended schedule put in place due to server slowdowns, those that are looking to nab a chunk of the broadband stimulus pile have until Monday, Aug. 24 to submit their applications. [Ed note: We hope you enjoy your work-filled, deadline-pressed weekend.] (See Recovery Problems.) WildBlue's stimulus projects aims to provide satellite-connected speeds of 768 kbit/s (downstream) for $19.95 per month. She said satellite broadband offers a good fit for underserved and unserved areas because it's readily available today. "But, to be honest, it's too expensive for some," Scalpone acknowledges. Without any subsidized help, WildBlue's high-end "Pro" tier costs $79.95 per month for a service running 1.5 Mbit/s downstream and 256 kbit/s upstream. The "Select" tier (1 Mbit/s down by 200 kbit/s up) goes for $69.95 per month, while the low-end "Value" offering (512 kbit/s down by 128 kbit/s) runs almost $50 per month. This isn't the only project underway at WildBlue. Earlier this year, it announced intentions to gain funds for a nationwide satellite broadband service that will offer downstream speeds in the neighborhood of 18 Mbit/s. (See WildBlue Makes Stimulus Pitch .) The company, which maintains there are 15 million homes and businesses in rural areas that qualify as unserved or underserved, has said it would cost about $300 million and three years to develop and launch WildBlue 3, the satellite that would power the faster offering. Although WildBlue is cash flow positive, it says it would need additional funds to put toward R&D and to help subsidize the requisite customer premises equipment (CPE). Scalpone says WildBlue has completed and filed its application for the next-gen project. WildBlue, which bases its modems on some Docsis technologies from the cable world, has 400,000 customers, as the company announced this week. — Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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