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By Jeff Schult



AT&T and TCI? I Don’t Think So

The bet here is that the AT&T – TCI merger will go awry despite the avowed intentions and determination of the two chief executives who put together the deal.

The reason? The $48 billion deal will take at least six months to consummate even if everything goes right – and things are already going wrong for John Malone of cable giant TCI and Michael Armstrong of AT&T. AT&T stock has fallen more than 15 percent since the June 24th announcement, and that alone jeopardizes the agreed-upon stock swap.

Remember, we have been here before, when Malone sought to merge TCI with Bell Atlantic in 1994. That deal crashed and burned when Bell Atlantic stock took a similar dive, leaving Malone with far less than he had bargained for.

People who own stock in telephone companies are used to regular dividends and stable prices. Malone built TCI on junk bonds in the late 1980s and the company has both the most debt and the oldest physical plant of any of the cable giants. By the time the government finishes sniffing this turkey, it’ll be cooked by the shareholders.

The only fun part left will be watching the posturing over who really says "No." Because the side that backs out owes the other guy $1.75 billion, the way the deal is written.

Microsoft pays $5M for "Internet Explorer"

Microsoft agreed to pay US$5 million for the right to continue calling its Web browser software "Internet Explorer."

On the second day of a civil jury trial in a Chicago federal courtroom, Microsoft reached a settlement with lawyers of SyNet, a defunct Illinois Internet service provider that claimed the right to the Internet Explorer trademark.

Microsoft  had argued that Internet Explorer was not a brand name, but rather two words that describe a common computer function. The company argued that SyNet did not deserve trademark protection.

SyNet disagreed, arguing that it had been using the name since 1994. Dhiren Rana, the company's founder, claimed that the cost of trying to protect SyNet from Microsoft was part of the reason the company went into bankruptcy.

Under terms of the agreement, Microsoft will obtain SyNet's trademark rights to the name. Rana, a British immigrant, will not see any of the settlement money, which will go to lawyers and other creditors.

The amusing part of all this is that Microsoft says they expected to win at trial, meaning that they apparently were ready to claim that "Internet Explorer" can’t be trademarked. Anyone out there want to launch a new product and try out Microsoft’s own argument against them? Not me …


Italian Internet Provider Shut Down

The Italian Postal Service reportedly shut down a non-profit Internet provider early this week for defaming a travel agency on the Internet.

Islands in the Net is (or was) an Italian non-profit association that offers communication spaces to social clubs, free radios and collectives, was shut down for displaying on the web a flyer urging the boycott of

The travel agency because its owner allegedly has financial ties to a former prime minister of Turkey. The flyer advocated solidarity with the Kurdistanis oppressed by the Turkish government.

The server at www.ecn.org is down, its web pages are no longer available online and all its e-mail services were shut down.

I guess there just isn’t any government that’s entirely comfortable with the "free speech thing," to use the technical legal term. Naturally, the pages have been mirrored all over the globe, showing again how well censorship works on the Internet. For an update, go to www.strano.net.


NPR Reporter Defenseless in Child-Porn Case

A federal judge ruled this week that a veteran reporter for National Public Radio who admits to sending and receiving child pornography over the ‘Net can’t use the 1st Amendment as a defense.

Reporter Larry Matthews says the child pornography the FBI seized from his home computer in 1996 was research for magazine articles about the explosion of child porn on the Internet and authorities' efforts to curb it. Prosecutors say the veteran reporter was only trying to satisfy his prurient interest and that any journalistic intent he may have had is irrelevant.

A federal judge has weighed in on the side of the prosecution and ruled that Matthews cannot invoke the First Amendment during his trial on charges of sending and receiving online kid porn.

Okay, it is a pretty-well established point of law that the press cannot BREAK the law in pursuit of a story and expect to get away with it. And for the most part, I can agree with that. But the fact is, you can’t go do a story about child pornography on the Internet without trying to get close to the traffic, and the public has a right to know more about the subject than police and public officials are willing to dole out in sound bites. I’ve read stories that indicate that a large percentage of the traffic in child porn these days seems to be between undercover cops stumbling all over each other in sting operations.

In fact, Nicole and I have downloaded pictures from Usenet for the purpose of looking at them and trying to determine with our own eyes if there is widespread child porn readily available, so that we could write about it. So if they’re coming after Larry Matthews, I guess I’m next in line.

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