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Cyberspace in outer space

Hughes Network Systems begins connecting home PCs to the Internet with its high-speed and high-priced satellite service.

Hughes Network Systems today begins connecting home PCs to the Internet with its high-speed and high-priced satellite service.

The one-way service, called DirecPC, downloads documents from the Net using small-satellite receiver technology at 14 times the rate of standard phone lines, but at a cost of $699, excluding monthly fees. Users must rely on standard phone lines and modems to dial in to the service, however, and that costs extra too.

The system represents yet another way to get on the Net in a crowded field that includes wired and wireless networks. For Hughes, it is another way for the company to tap new consumer-related revenue streams beyond the shrinking defense market that it had relied on for decades.

Hughes's hardware and software package, dubbed DirectPC Personal Edition, should be in stock at CompUSA stores in California starting today and in CompUSA outlets nationwide by the end of next month, in time for the holiday buying season. The shrink-wrapped package includes a 21-inch satellite dish, connecting cable, and 16-bit ISA bus card adapter.

It also comes bundled with CD-ROM capabilities, as well as Netscape Communications' Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer browsers.

The operating software comes from two Internet service providers, EarthLink and Netcom, and is required for the dial-in link. Users have the option of signing up with either one, but that costs an additional $19.95 a month.

Despite the multistage setup, the high-speed information delivery service runs circles around the cheaper standard computer modems and downloads about three times faster than advanced digital telephone connections, company executives said.

Its equipment price tag also is high. The General Motors subsidiary requires that users buy a $699 hardware package, plus monthly flat fee of $9.95. Additional usage fees vary from $39.95 a month for unlimited evening and weekend surfing to $129.95 for daytime connections.

The company says consumers can also opt to have a technician install the package in 48 hours.