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SBC begins offering satellite TV

SBC Communications begins offering satellite TV service with EchoStar Communications in a move to compete better with their cable rivals.

SBC Communications on Wednesday said it began offering satellite TV service with EchoStar Communications in a move to compete better with their cable rivals.

SBC is offering EchoStar's Dish Network to its local telephone customers in the 13 states in its market. SBC will handle orders, bill customers and schedule installation appointments, and EchoStar will install the satellite equipment in homes. A joint call center will handle customer service.

SBC also introduced a package plan that combines local and long-distance phone service, phone add-ons such as voice mail, a Cingular Wireless plan, broadband Internet access and 120 TV channels for $125 a month. The company said the package will save more than $380 a year compared with buying each plan a la carte.

Separate from the bundle, satellite TV packages range from $29.95 a month to $82.99 a month based on the number of channels and upgrades to premium channels such as HBO. All TV packages require a local phone line.

Today's launch highlights a growing urgency among the Baby Bell phone companies to offer competitive packages to its customers. That's because cable companies have gained traction bundling their "triple threat" of TV, broadband and voice to households, largely at the expense of the Bells.

The Bells have watched cable companies slowly chip away their bedrock local phone business. Last year, the Bells began discounting their digital subscriber line (DSL) services to hold onto their phone customers and prevent new customers from turning to cable. Some companies such as SBC offered DSL promotions for $26.95, comparable with slower narrow-band Internet service providers (ISPs).

In response, cable companies such as Comcast, Cablevision, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications nearly doubled their base download speeds.

Other Bells have joined the satellite TV trend. Qwest Communications also has a deal to offer the Dish Network to its customers. Verizon and BellSouth have deals with Hughes Electronics' DirecTV.