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Wireless/satellite

WildBlue's New 'Lease' on Life

5:30 PM -- Although WildBlue Communications delivers broadband services via satellite links, its technical platform borrows heavily from cable's Docsis platform. So perhaps it was only a matter of time that WildBlue (finally) stole another page from cable's high-speed playbook: offering equipment under a leased model.

WildBlue -- which signed up its first customer in June 2005 and now has more than 345,000 -- chucked the equipment purchase model in favor of a lease program Monday, allowing customers to obtain the necessary gear (a modem and a the dish) for $5.95 per month. New customers can also obtain the equipment for $99.95 under a 24-month, pre-pay plan. WildBlue will automatically replace faulty equipment under the new plan. Before it would do that only if the gear was under warranty. (See WildBlue Bows Lease Program.)

Minidish

The move also reduced the one-time WildBlue "activation fee" to $149, down from about $329. That fee also includes professional installation, which, according to WildBlue vice president of sales and marketing Ed Knutson, is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirement for the interactive satellite broadband platform.

WildBlue hopes the lease-only move will remove "the most challenging hurdle" faced by new customers -- the upfront costs. Apparently, when you live in the boonies and other rural areas untouched by cable modems, DSL, or fiber-to-the-home technologies, you don't sweat the speeds WildBlue offers (the high-end "Pro Pak" tier taps out at 1.5 Mbit/s downstream/256 kbit/s upstream), or the service provider's "thresholds," which, also for Pro Pak, cap download consumption at 17 gigabytes per month and upstream consumption at 5 gigabytes, over a 30-day period.

According to WildBlue's Fair Access Policy, customers will be notified if their usage reaches 80 percent or more of the threshold. If that threshold is breached, WildBlue will dial down access speeds to 128 Kbit/s down by 28 Kbit/s up.

According to Knutson, less than 2 percent of WildBlue's customers come into contact with the policy.

Although WildBlue won't blow the doors off of technologies like Docsis 3.0 and offer shared speeds of 100 Mbit/s or more, it is considering offering faster speeds in some parts of the country.

Knutson said WildBlue's spot-beam approach (it has two satellites operating 56 spot-beams, with some overlap areas) could allow the company to introduce higher speeds "where we've got the capacity to play with." That includes some mountain states, and, more generally, portions of the U.S. west of the Mississippi.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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