Lost in Space

Roughly seven years after I first needed it, EchoStar (Nasdaq: DISH  ) and DirecTV (NYSE: DTV  ) want to sell me broadband Web access. Oh, goody.

Friday, privately held WildBlueCommunications said it would be the exclusive satellite Internet provider for customers of DISH Network and DirecTV for at least the next five years. The service requires a second dish to operate effectively but could prove useful to those who live in rural areas.

Or not. Like I said, I needed this service seven years ago, and DISH couldn't provide it. It was hard enough just getting TV service from the company. And bear in mind that I don't live in the sticks; I'm across from a state park in a well-heeled, 800-house development near the foothills along the southern base of the Rockies.

So instead, I went with fixed wireless Internet, which uses a tower within the line of sight of a mushroom-like receiver on my roof. It delivers and uploads data as fast as any cable modem or DSL line.

I also have lots more connectivity choices today than when we first moved here. There's Stock Advisor pick Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX  ) , for example. Its in-store Wi-Fi service is powered by T-Mobile and is relatively cheap if you bundle it with cell-phone service, as I do. Plus there's Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) , which is in on the game by offering free Wi-Fi in the San Francisco Bay Area. (Albeit for a spooky amount of personal information, like where you're logging in from.)

None of these initiatives helps backwoods surfers the way WildBlue may, of course. And I'm sure there is plenty of value in this new offering for customers; just not for investors, especially now that the Pew Research Center says the gap between rural and urban broadband access is narrowing. (Click here to get the full pdf report.)

Certainly, there's space remaining for roof mushrooms throughout America's far-flung communities. But if my experience serves, many dwellers may have already chosen fixed wireless, free local Wi-Fi, or some other connectivity doodad. And that's what really matters for investors taking a look at EchoStar and DirecTV today.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what is in his portfolio by checking Tim's Fool profile. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.


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