Thursday AM August 30th, 2007

Earthlink cutbacks lead to delay for Houston's wi-fi network...Enron shareholders litigator to retire...Fewer Americans traveling over Labor Day weekend...

The announcement by Earthlink that it will reduce its staff by 900 and close operations in four cities also means a delay for Houston's planned citywide wi-fi network. Mayor Bill White says Earthlink will pay a $5 million penalty for delays in building a wireless network for the city. The Houston City Council approved the Earthlink contract in April, calling for outdoor coverage for 95 percent of Houston's 640 square miles and indoor service for 90 percent of buildings in the area. Mayor White says Earthlink now has a nine-month window to start building the network in Houston. The company is two to three months behind schedule. White says in the meantime, Houston can consider offers from other wi-fi vendors.


An attorney who negotiated billions of dollars in settlements for Enron investors is retiring as head of his San Diego-based law firm. William LeRach is being investigatedξby Los Angeles prosecutors about whether his former New York-based law firm paid kickbacks to clients in exchange for their service as plaintiffs in securities-fraud suits. LeRach helped former Enron investors recover more than $7.3 billion in settlements with Enron's former lenders.


Despite a dip in gas prices, fewer Americans are planning to hit the road this Labor Day weekend. AAA says fewer than 29 million people will travel by car over the long weekend, down by about 100,000 from last year. AAA says the overall number of people planning to travel more than 50 miles over Labor Day is expected to rise slightly to 34.6 million. That includes a small rise in the number of people planning to fly this weekend. AAA Texas says about 2.77 million Texas residents statewide are expected to hit the road this holiday weekend--up slightly from the more than the 2.76 million who traveled last year. The group's survey of travel agents found the top destinations for Texans are expected to be: San Antonio; Orlando, Florida; the Grand Canyon or other national parks; cruises out of Galveston and Mexico. AAA and the Oil Price Information Service say national gas prices are about $2.75 a gallon. That's down a dime from last year, but is still high by historical standards.ξ Gas prices in most areas of Texas are at least a few cents lower than they were during the 2006 Labor Day period. The average statewide price per gallon last week was $2.69.


The Energy Department says gasoline supplies in the U.S. fell last week for a fourth straight week. Stockpiles of the motor fuel fell by 3.6 million barrels. Gasoline inventories are more than eight percent below year-ago levels. Crude inventories fell by 3.5 million barrels. The report also shows that stocks of distillate fuel, including diesel and heating oil, rose by 900,000 barrels.


Houston recorded the second-largest, year-over-year July increase in non-farm employment among 369 U.S. metropolitan areas, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. This region saw an employment gain of 82,000 jobs, second only to the Dallas/Fort Worth area which saw an increase of 91,000 jobs. Houston had a 3.4 percent increase in employment, followed by a 3.2 percent increase in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. The unemployment rate for Houston in July was 4.6 percent. The national rate is 4.9 percent.


The RecruitMilitary Career Fair is set for Thursday at the Sam Houston Race Park on North Sam Houston Parkway. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says the veterans job fair will be conducted in cooperation with HireVets First, a unit of the Department of Labor and the American Legion. Harris County and the City of Houston in June launched the Returning Veterans Initiative to help veterans make smooth transitions from their military careers back into civilian lives.


Texas leads all states in the percentage of residents without health insurance. That's according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. Texas had an uninsured rate of 24 percent for the years 2004 to 2006. Following Texas were New Mexico and Florida, which both had uninsured rates topping 20 percent. Minnesota and Hawaii had the lowest uninsured rate at below ten percent. The census report says Texas has 5.5 million people without health insurance coverage. Nationally, 45.1 million people have no health coverage.


Spending differences over a ten-year period varied more among schools within individual districts than from district to district, according to researchers with the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, as reported by the Houston Business Journal. General per-pupil funding in Houston, Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth showed higher levels of inequity than in the state's other districts. One-third of Houston schools were spending between 20 and 25 percent more than the district average.


Cruise lines and their passengers spent $17.6 billion in the U.S. in 2006, and New York and Hawaii were among the fastest growing embarkation points for cruise travelers. The Cruise Lines International Association reports that direct spending related to the cruise industry increased 9 percent in 2006. That's down slightly from ten percent growth the year before because of a slower rate of capacity growth and a drop in consumer discretionary spending. The Port of Galveston ranked fourth with 617,000 embarkations, an increase of 16 percent from the year before. Florida led with nearly 56 percent of all embarkations and the top three cruise ports in 2006--the Port of Miami, Port Canaveral and Port Everglades. The report showed that 12 million passengers took cruise vacations worldwide in 2006, with U.S. passengers making up 78 percent of those travelers.


Stewart Title Guaranty has agreed to pay California regulators $1 million and faces a possible $2 million fine in Washington over alleged illegal payments to home builders and lenders who steered business its way, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Stewart Title Guaranty is sponsoring a study to improve home ownership among American Indians, according to the Houston Business Journal. The Tribal Land Title and Recordation Office Study is a research partnership between First National Development Institute and the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center.


A groundbreaking ceremony is set for this morning at ten to initiate construction for the University of Texas Health Science Center at the Research Park Complex, at the corner of Cambridge at East Road. The $161.5-million complex is being jointly developed by the UT Health Science Center and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. It will be comprised of the Dental Branch Replacement Building, Neuroscience Building and Biomedical Research and Education Facility—three buildings connected into one facility.


Houston-based Hercules Offshore is consolidating its headquarters with recently-merged Toddco, taking up three floors in Nine Greenway Plaza by the end of the year. Hercules is moving from 11 Greenway and Toddco is moving from Westchase offices in BriarLake Plaza. Hercules has about 3,900 employees, 33 jack-up drilling rigs, 27 barge rigs, 65 lift boats and three submersible rigs.


Federal regulators ordered airlines to speed up inspections of the wing slats on newer Boeing 737 jetliners. That's after more problems that could lead to a fire were found in initial inspections this week. In the United States, the planes also are used by Houston-based Continental, Fort Worth-based American, Delta, Alaska and other carriers. The order came in the second Emergency Airworthiness Directive issued by the Federal Aviation Administration in four days. The order reduces the time allowed for inspecting the slat down-stop assembly from 24 days to 10. Both last Saturday's directive and the superseding one issued late Tuesday are based on findings about the fire that destroyed a China Airlines 737 in Japan last week. Japanese investigators found that a bolt from a right wing slat pierced the fuel tank of the Taiwanese jetliner, causing a fuel leak that caught fire after landing on the island of Okinawa. All 165 people aboard escaped safely seconds before the plane exploded. The first of the new 737s entered service in January 1998 with Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which flies 737s exclusively.


New government ratings may give consumers a bit more comfort when considering the safety of new sport utility vehicles. That's because rollover ratings issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 2007 model year vehicles are showing progress over past models. The ratings provide information on the likelihood of a rollover. Rollover kills more than 10,000 motorists in the U.S. every year, accounting for more than a third of the motorists killed in the nation. Seventy-eight 2007 model year SUVs received a four-star rating in the rollover tests, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. More than half of the 2007 SUVs had four-star ratings. That's compared to 48 of the 2006 SUVs that earned four stars out of 103 SUVs rated. Only one SUV received four stars in 2001. Newly tested 2007 SUVs receiving the four-star rating include: Infiniti FX35, Mazda CX-7, Ford Edge and Explorer Sport Trac, Hyundai Santa Fe and Veracruz, Jeep Compass, Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V, Volkswagen Touareg, Acura MDX and RDX, Suzuki Xl7, and Saturn Outlook.


Alltel Corporation is formalizing its $24.7 billion buyout. The Little Rock-based wireless phone company is being bought by Fort Worth-based TPG Capital and New York-based GS Capital Partners. The meeting at North Little Rock's Alltel Arena is expected to be a short one--involving only a tally of the votes. Alltel's board explored the option to sell the company in light of the potential to get a premium for Alltel shares. The purchase price of $71.50is 22 percent higher than the last close before news of the merger activity leaked late last year. According to regulatory filings, the board also considered trends in the wireless business and the risks involved in being the fifth-largest carrier in a sector that has been consolidating. The company has about 15,000 employees.


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