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EchoStar launches new satellite service

EchoStar Communications launches a new direct broadcast satellite television service for residents in Alaska, Hawaii and the U.S. territories.

EchoStar Communications launched a new direct broadcast satellite television service in Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories today, while federal regulators ruled renters have a right to install small satellite dishes on their homes.

EchoStar, which operates the Dish Network, will offer up to 27 channels on the Sky Vista service. A new EchoStar business unit, Sky Vista is a joint venture with Loral Space & Communications' Skynet division.

To take advantage of the service, customers need to buy a 3-foot satellite dish and a set-top box for $399. The standard programming package includes 20 channels, for a monthly fee of $19.99. Viewers may buy premium channels such as HBO for an additional fee.

According to the company, more than 1.7 million customers use EchoStar's Dish Network. But residents in the non-contiguous U.S. states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands can not access the Dish Network due to satellite limitations.

EchoStar, however, is leasing capacity on Loral Skynet's Telstar 5 satellite, which is better positioned in orbit to reach the far-flung regions.

EchoStar also intends to offer programming tailored to each region's ethnic makeup on Sky Vista sometime next year, a spokesman said.

Separately, the Federal Communications Commission ruled today that renters should be allowed to install small satellite dishes and other television antennas on rental property.

The rule applies to apartment buildings and rental homes, and prevents landlords from banning dishes on private balconies and patios.

"The commission has thus eliminated the have-and-have-not distinction that gave homeowners access to the competitive video market but denied it to all apartment dwellers," FCC chairman William Kennard said in a statement.

Direct-to-home services is one of the fastest growing businesses in the satellite industry, said Clayton Mowry, director of the Satellite Industry Association. There are about 10 million direct broadcasting satellite dishes in the United States, Mowry said.

In rural states such as Wyoming, Montana, and the Dakotas, direct broadcasting satellite services, such as EchoStar and competitors DirecTV, PrimeStar, and U.S. Satellite Broadcasting (USSB), have a market penetration rate of as much as 30 percent, Mowry said.

Stock in USSB closed nearly 12 percent higher today at 7.625. EchoStar shares closed down more than 1 percent at 34.