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Tuesday, March 28, 2000

EchoStar offering
small-dish TV in isles

By Tim Ruel


EchoStar Communications Corp. plans to begin offering $29.99-a-month, small-dish digital satellite television service in Hawaii starting Saturday.

Littleton, Colo.-based EchoStar, which has provided a more expensive large-dish service here since 1996, is the only digital direct-TV satellite manufacturer serving the islands.

For the new service, customers will need to buy a small satellite dish at local retailers for between about $235 and $500, plus installation charges. The $29.99 monthly fee includes 70 cable channels, such as A&E, CNN, Disney, ESPN and VH-1. So-called premium channels, including HBO and Showtime, and other channel packages will cost more.

Marc Lumpkin, communications manager for EchoStar, said the company has signed some local broadcasters and is negotiating with others, but declined to give further details. A package of network affiliates from the West Coast costs another $4.99 a month.

The company's $250 million satellite is positioned to serve only Hawaii and Alaska. EchoStar actually had to move the satellite from another position and turn up the power to reach the islands, Lumpkin said.

"You're just on the edge of our footprint for receiving a satellite beam," he said, adding that Hawaii's mountainous geography can vary reception by location. This has led to added expenses for EchoStar.

Some local retailers say the EchoStar package costs a little more than they expected.

"They're asking us to pay Top 100 prices for Top 70" channels, says Thom McCarty, general manager for Satellite TV Hawaii Inc. "It's still better than cable, but I want it even better."

Other local retailers include Island Satellite & Communications - Digital Music Express, Chock's TV & Appliance Ltd., All Island Security Systems Inc., and Molokai Sight & Sound.

Installation charges will vary by retailer, Lumpkin said. He could not provide an estimate.

McCarty has been doing business with EchoStar since the company began offering the larger dish service, which costs roughly $3,500 for the dish, plus installation.

McCarty hopes to sell between 7,000 and 8,000 of the new, smaller dishes within a year.

Nationwide, EchoStar says its DISH Network system has 3.4 million total customers, adding 100,000 more a month.

In Hawaii, EchoStar will compete mainly with Oceanic Cable.

Another satellite company, AlphaStar Television Network Inc., entered the Hawaii market in 1996, but filed bankruptcy in May 1997, leaving 2,200 Hawaii subscribers with useless, $1,000 dishes.

Satellite TV Hawaii lost $150,000 after its AlphaStar inventory became worthless. "I'm still licking my wounds on that one," McCarty said.

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