satellite1Update August 20- ViaSat later yesterday said the virtually unlimited offer will also be available in Hawaii and parts of Alaska

ViaSat made a big move today that could help the company overcome one of the biggest limitations of its satellite broadband offering. The company said it will begin offering what it calls “virtually unlimited” satellite broadband service. The service will be available beginning this week to new customers in Florida and will also be available in some other limited markets, but the company anticipates expanding service moving forward.

In a phone interview, ViaSat Director of Marketing Communications Matt Farr explained what the company means by “virtually unlimited.”

Phasing Out Satellite Broadband Caps
Since ViaSat launched higher-speed broadband service, it has been gradually loosening its cap, Farr noted. With the company’s Exede Evolution service launched late last year, customers have had unlimited data for email and web page access, but data used for higher-bandwidth activities such as streaming media and data uploads is capped. When the cap is reached, customers’ service is slowed but not cut off.

The “virtually unlimited” offering, which will carry the name “Freedom,” gives customers unlimited lower-speed bandwidth and at least 150 gigabytes of data for the higher-bandwidth services, which Farr said should be plenty for most customers. And according to Farr, even customers who exceed that level will not be throttled back immediately — and possibly not at all.

If a customer uses 600 gigabytes, ViaSat will look into how the customer is using the high-bandwidth connectivity. “It protects us from somebody using [service] for a business purpose that it’s not intended for,” Farr said. “Or maybe their computer is infected and they’re sending out tons of requests to botnets all over the world.”

New customers in the target areas will pay $69.99 monthly for the Freedom offering for the first six months, with a $10 savings when purchased with Exede’s voice offering.  After six months, customers can ask for the service to be continued and pay $99.99 monthly or will fall back to the Evolution plan that caps high-bandwidth data usage at 20 gigabytes a month.

“The Freedom plan is what we’ve been working toward for the last decade,” said Farr.

Although satellite broadband initially was slower than landline options, ViaSat’s current 12 Mbps speeds are “sufficient for just about everything,” Farr said, also noting that 12 Mbps is double the national average for DSL service.

He noted, however, that “people still complained about the data cap.”

With the Freedom plan addressing that concern, Farr said, “Our real hope is that people will just love it.” Until now he said DSL users have been reluctant to switch to ViaSat because of the cap but ViaSat hopes the Freedom offering will change that.

What About the Weather?
Farr didn’t mention weather issues as a key objection to satellite broadband, and when I asked him about it, he said that most storms may cause service to slow down but generally don’t interrupt it. When such conditions occur, he said the system begins operating at a higher power level, enabling it to continue to function at the lower speed.

In extreme conditions such as a hurricane service may be interrupted, but the same also may be true for landline service. When that happens, he said satellite broadband service may be restored more quickly than landline options because unlike with landline services, ViaSat’s infrastructure doesn’t rely on wires or the power grid.

“After a natural disaster, people who have a generator and have our service are the only ones who can connect to the Internet,” said Farr.

He pointed to floods that occurred in Colorado. In some towns, he said, the only Internet connectivity available shortly after the flooding was satellite broadband, so everyone in town went to one of the homes that had satellite service to advise their families that they were OK.

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