Tuesday AM June 19th, 2007

Comcast takes over Time Warner cable system...Blockbuster chooses Blu-Ray high-definition DVDs...AT&T begins offering broadband Internet service for $10 per month...

Time Warner cable subscribers will notice the big switch today, as Comcast becomes their provider. The midnight changeover affects some 750,000 Houston-area households. The transition is the precursor to the rollout of Comcast's broadband video, high-speed Internet and phone products. The company is investing more than $200 million into this market this year, enhancing the company's fiber network. The Comcast market stretches from Galveston to the Woodlands and from Baytown to Katy. The switch also means the launching of almost 20 new channels, including five high-definition networks. Comcast employs 2,700 employees in the area.


Blockbuster will rent high-definition DVDs only in the Blu-Ray format in more than 1,400 stores when it expands its high-def offerings next month. That deals a major blow to the rival HD DVD format. The move being announced Monday could be the first step in resolving a format war that has kept confused consumers from rushing to buy new DVD players until they can determine which format will dominate the market. Dallas-based Blockbuster has been renting both Blu-Ray and HD titles in 250 stores since late last year. It's found that consumers choose Blu-Ray titles more than 70 percent of the time. A Blockbuster executive says consumers "are sending us a message."


San Antonio-based AT&T has started offering a broadband Internet service for $10 per month. That's half the price of its cheapest advertised plan. The DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, plan was introduced Saturday. It's part of concessions made by AT&T to the Federal Communications Commission to get its $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth approved last December. The $10 offer is available to customers in the 22-state AT&T service region, which includes former BellSouth areas, who have never had AT&T or BellSouth broadband. Local phone service and a one-year contract are required. The modem is free. The agreement with the FCC requires the company to offer the plan for at least two and a-half years. The introduction of the plan, slightly before the deadline at the end of June, was first reported by the Tennessean in Nashville.


Nascar has filed a $100 million counter-claim against AT&T. Nascar is accusing the wireless provider of interfering with its exclusive sponsorship agreement with rival wireless company Nextel. Nascar filed the suit electronically in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. It alleges breach of contract, fraud and misrepresentation, and conspiracy to aid and abet wrongful interference with Nextel. The two sides have been battling all season over Nascar's refusal to allow AT&T to put its logos on Jeff Burton's car. Burton and his Richard Childress racing team have a sponsorship agreement with Cingular, which has since been purchased by AT&T.


Shares of Apple are trading higher after the company released positive information about its highly anticipated Iphone. Apple says the battery in the Iphone will have a battery life that supports eight hours of talk time, better than what the company originally estimated in January. The company says the battery also supports seven hours of video playback, six hours of Internet use, 24 hours of music playback, and it will feature up to ten days of standby time before requiring a recharge. In another change, the Iphone's touch-sensitive screen will be made out of optical-quality glass, instead of plastic. The combo cell phone, media player and wireless web device will only be sold at stores owned by Apple and San Antonio-based AT&T when it goes on sale in on June 29th. It will also be available at Apple's Web site. Customers wanting to get their hands on highly anticipated Iphone better make sure they're at the right store. The combination cell phone, media player and wireless Web device will only be sold at stores owned by Apple and AT&T, and on Apple's Web site. San Antonio-based AT&T has an exclusive deal to offer service for the device when it's launched June 29th. The device goes on sale at 6 p.m. local time in each U.S. market. AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook says the limited availability will only be for the initial launch. Later, it will be sold on the Internet and through other outlets. The Iphone uses a touch-sensitive screen rather than a keypad. The device will sell for $499 and $599. AT&T hasn't disclosed what the contract service fees will be.


Builder confidence has slipped, providing another indication of weakness in the housing sector. The National Association of Homebuilders says its Housing Market Index for June has fallen to a reading of 28, the lowest since February 1991. Last month, the index dropped to 30, down from 33 in April. The continued decline suggests a deteriorating outlook for the housing market. NAHB chief economist David Seiders says home sales are likely to "erode somewhat further in the months ahead.'' He expects housing to be "a drag on economic growth'' for the rest of the year.


The U.S. Supreme Court has sided with Wall Street investment banks that were alleged to have conspired to drive up prices on hundreds of newly issued stocks during the dot.com bubble of the late 90s. The justices reversed a federal appeals court decision that had enabled investors to sue for anticompetitive practices. A positive resolution of the antitrust case was vital to Wall Street because damages in antitrust cases are tripled, in contrast to penalties under securities laws. At issue was whether conduct that is the focus of extensive federal regulation under securities law is immune from liability under federal antitrust laws. Investors charged that as a result of the alleged conspiracy. The average price increase on the first day of trading was more than 70 percent in 1999-2000, sharply higher than during the period from 1981 to 1996.


Houston-based pipeline operations and maintenance provider Energy Maintenance Services Group has acquired Clear Lake-based Energy Facility Services in an undisclosed deal, according to the Houston Business Journal. EFSI is a leak detection, mechanical repair and environmental services company with operations in Port Neches, as well as in Alabama and Louisiana.


Austin-based chip designer Alereon Incorporated is releasing the first chip that uses a frequency band legal all over the world for wireless USB. That's a technology with the potential to cut the tangle of cables surrounding computers. The new chip could prove an important step in persuading computer makers to incorporate the technology. A few wireless USB--or Universal Serial Bus--products that are already on the U.S. market. But they send and receive signals over a frequency that isn't legal in most of the world because of potential interference with radar. USB cables connect computers to mice, keyboards, printers, cameras and external hard drives. Alereon spokesman Mike Krell believes the new A-L-5100 chip will show up in external hard drives and cameras this year. They'll connect to computers with optional wireless add-in cards, or dongles that go into USB ports.


Continental Airlines said its passengers will be able to earn and redeem frequent-flier miles on China Southern Airlines. The carriers plan to begin selling seats on each other's flights in November. The deal is part of Houston-based Continental's effort to increase service to the fast-growing Chinese market. Chairman and Chief Executive Larry Kellner called China Southern "the right partner'' in China. China Southern is one of China's leading carriers, along with Air China and China Eastern Airlines. It expects the deal to increase its share of the cross-Pacific and the U.S. markets. The agreement also includes reciprocal use of each other's airport lounges. The ticket-selling arrangement, called code-sharing, will let Continental put its name on some China Southern flights, including Los Angeles-to-Guangzhou. China Southern will sell seats on Continental flights that connect with China Southern flights at Los Angeles.


Raton, New Mexico, is concerned that increased oil and gas drilling could harm the area's streams, which are the basis of hunting, fishing and nature-loving outdoor enthusiasts. The decision to drill isn't up to state and city officials. Ultimately, it will be decided by TDC Engineering of Abilene, Texas. Raton officials fear that the large amount of groundwater pumped to the surface during drilling could pollute the fresh water supply. There are other concerns. Sugarite Canyon State Park near Raton attracts 150,000 visitors a year. State Parks Director Dave Simon worries that gas exploration could bring large trucks, noise and pollution into the canyon on their way to Lake Dorothey.


For less than $200 and a cheek-swiped cotton swab, amateur historians will soon be able to add DNA results to family tree Web sites. The rapidly growing field of online genealogical searches is expanding to genetic testing. That's due to a new partnership between the Internet's largest family history Web site, and DNA research firm Sorenson Genomics. The launch is expected by the end of summer. Customers will be able to search for DNA matches in the site's 24,000 genealogical databases.


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