Can ViaSat Make Satellite Broadband Worthwhile?

Since the days of dial-up, the few companies that have offered internet access via satellite connection have delivered slug-like download speeds for a king’s ransom, especially to people for whom cable internet or DSL was not a viable option. But ViaSat, the company Dish Network has just partnered with to offer broadband access, says it’s trying to bring high-speed access for reasonable prices.

Inside the ViaSat outpost at the Consumer Electronics Show, I was able to get a first-hand look at the company’s latest service, called Exede. Like the Dish bundle, this service promises up to 12 Mbps download speeds and around 3 Mbps for uploads. When I saw the service in action, we were actually getting close to 20 Mbps downstream.

ViaSat CEO Mark Dankberg explained that the company’s most likely customer is the rural customer who has very few options for internet access.

“Just because you don’t have options doesn’t mean you should be exploited,” he told me.

But before you go cutting your cable and committing to satellite broadband, be aware that all three pricing tiers for ViaSat come with data caps that could turn off moderate-to-heavy internet users.

All three tiers promise the same up/down speeds but the $50/month tier caps at 7.5 GB total data usage. For $80/month, that doubles to 15 GB, while $130/month will get you 25 GB.

“We’re not trying to be everything for everybody,” said Dankberg. “But we’re trying to give people who need internet access a reasonable option.”

Exede is set to officially launch next week. It will take a few months before the company is able to roll it out nationwide.