How many choices do you have for Internet access in your area? If you're in a rural area, there may be a satellite provider. Suburbanites may have only the local cable company. Big city dwellers may get to choose from the local cable provider, incumbent telco and (sometimes) an overbuilder. For example, many New York City residents can choose among TimeWarner Cable, Verizon FiOS and RCN. And 20 U.S. cities either have or are on the roadmap for Google Fiber.

In most cases, though, it's fewer choices than you have for, say, mobile data service. Starry, a new company, aims to expand those options with a new wireless Internet option designed for fixed environments such as the home. Starry uses a different slice of spectrum than major wireless carriers. As such, it claims to deliver a broadband service at a gigabit per second -- the same as Google Fiber -- without having to tear up streets. That makes it a lot cheaper than fiber-based approaches. However, Starry's approach requires placing its "metro hubs" no more than about 1.25 miles away from . Subscribers must also keep an antenna outside their window as the technology can have problems penetrating walls.

That said, the team behind the company knows something about wireless services and antennas. Prior to Starry, it had created Aereo, a company that delivered over-the-air live and recorded broadcast television over the Internet. The broadcast networks, used to receiving compensation from cable providers for their content, sued, and the Supreme Court ultimately sided with them. Starry -- which delivers broadband programming to the home -- represents a second try that gets around the rebroadcasting provisions of the Aereo's efforts. As with Aereo, though, the team will have to rely on a slow city-by-city rollout. It plans to start in Boston.

Until then, Starry is hedging its bets by selling its router -- a $349 affair triangular touchscreen device -- that can work with existing broadband providers. Its screen serves a range of functions such as notifying which Wi-Fi devices are experiencing slow performance. And like other recent entrants, owners can expand its range with companion devices (the Starry Wing) and cut off access to kids at appointed times.

Alas, beyond that, Starry's mysteries as great as those of the galaxy. Starry will include its router as part of its Internet service, but the company is not saying how much that will be or whether it will require a contract. Assuming it can prove skeptics wrong, it could find an eager customer base among those looking to cut the cord from cable companies as products such as Apple TV and the 4K-capable Roku 4 deliver unprecedented video choices to the television via broadband.

Published on: Jan 30, 2016
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