Friday AM December 1st, 2006

AT&T debuts U-Verse video service in Houston…National unemployment claims climb…”Enron: the Musical” opens this weekend at Lambert Hall… AT&T is rolling out its U-Verse video service in the Houston area—it’s second market, after launching last June in San Antonio. AT&T U-Verse offers digital television reception and high speed Internet access, according to AT&T’s Ed Chorleton. […]

AT&T debuts U-Verse video service in Houston…National unemployment claims climb…”Enron: the Musical” opens this weekend at Lambert Hall…

AT&T is rolling out its U-Verse video service in the Houston area—it’s second market, after launching last June in San Antonio. AT&T U-Verse offers digital television reception and high speed Internet access, according to AT&T’s Ed Chorleton.

“Well U-Verse is an IP-enabled all-digital television service. It’s a full-on replacement for cable or satellite TV service. It’s got a lot of HD channels—we have nearly 30 HD channels at the launch, and that will be expanding. Around 400 channels in total. Music services, a lot of on-demand TV and movies and that sort of thing. They way you can search for shows, the way you can order TV and all that sort of thing is very good. It has instant channel change, so if you have digital satellite service, for example, you have a little bit of a delay between changing channels–channels change instantly with U-Verse. All the equipment is included so there’s no hidden charges or anything like that. So you get your equipment–the DVR is included. And so it’s a very straight-forward, easy-to-use high-tech product that is actually priced at a way that people can understand it, first off, and find it priced relative to competition.”

There are three available Internet download speeds. Chorleton says there are advantages to having the same service for Internet access and television reception.

“Yeah, I mean, one of the nice things about the U-Verse system, it comes with a router that facilitates moving the video signals around the home, but that router also moves your data signals, as well. It’s a wireless router, as well as being able to send it over the lines within the home—the coax and other lines within the home. So you don’t have to go out and buy a separate router, it’s a router that you get included with the service. It allows you to hook up your PCs wirelessly, if that’s what you’d like to do, and there’s no charge for it.”

U-Verse utilizes AT&T’s fiber network in limited areas at first, with plans to expand availability.

More Americans were hitting the unemployment lines last week. The Labor Department says new claims for unemployment aid rose 34,000 to 357,000 last week. The four-week moving average, which is less volatile, rose more than 7,000 to 325,000. It is the highest level for the four-week moving average since June.

Consumers parted with a bit more of their cash in October after two lackluster months for spending. The Commerce Department says consumer spending rose two-tenths of one percent. It had posted modest declines in the previous two months. There was more money coming in. The outlays were fueled by continued growth in personal incomes, up four-tenths of one percent in October. That reflects employment growth which has taken the nation’s jobless rate to its lowest level in five years.

J.C. Penney has posted November sales gains below Wall Street’s expectations. Plano-based Penney says that same-store sales at department stores open at least one year rose 1.4 percent. That’s below the 3.7 percent increase predicted by analysts and last year’s November gain of 3.6 percent. Penney said total sales, including those at new stores, rose 3.3 percent. Spokesman Ed Merritt says Penney stores saw good traffic on Black Friday–the day after Thanksgiving, but it slowed on Saturday. He said sales were strongest in the west and southeast.

Another drop in interest rates–the fifth in as many weeks. Freddie Mac says the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.14 percent this week–the lowest since the end of January. Last week, the rate was 6.18 percent and a year ago it was 6.26 percent. The 15-year loan is averaging 5.87 percent, compared with 5.91 percent last week. The 15-year mortgage is popular in re-financings. Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist frank Nothaft notes mortgage applications have remained healthy in November largely because of the drop in rates and falling home prices in some areas.

A post-election survey of 7,000 public company CEOs identifies a growing concern about the 2007 performance of the U.S. economy and stock market. The survey by The Attention Group’s Investor Relations Division finds that 72 percent feel stock markets will flat-line or drop off, with 28 percent thinking the markets will improve in the next 12 months. Sixty-two percent expect a minor-to-mild drop off in the economy, and 26 percent expect the economy to remain the same as in 2006. Sixty-eight percent express concerns that American businesses will be less competitive in international markets in the coming year.

“Enron: the Musical” opens at Lambert Hall on Heights Boulevard tonight, with six performances scheduled this weekend and next weekend. The two-act musical, utilizing parodies of Broadway show tunes, has six actors playing up to ten roles, including those of the former CEO Jeff Skilling, former CFO Andy Fastow and Enron founder Ken Lay. The show, which looks at the fall of Enron through the eyes of a former employee, is written, directed and produced by Mark Fraser. He has written parodies for the Gridiron Show and writes a humor column for Inside Texas Running, where he has won two Lone Star Awards over the past three years (one first and one second place) for best magazine columnist in the state of Texas.

Schlumberger has acquired privately-owned Norwegian engineering and manufacturing firm Reslink, according to the Houston Business Journal. The company provides advanced completion solutions, offering engineering applications and products for san management, zonal isolation and intelligent well completions. Reslink operates engineering and manufacturing centers in Algard, Norway and Houston.

Texas Children’s Hospital will assume management of the obstetrics program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. According to the Houston Business Journal, the agreement falls in line with the hospital’s $1.5 billion investment into several key areas of pediatric research. OB services will continue to be provided in the existing St. Luke’s facilities. The agreement will remain in effect until completion in 2010 of Texas Children’s maternity center when the service will transfer from St. Luke’s to Texas Children’s.

Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center has unveiled plans for a new regional health network, anchored by a 160-bed acute care facility. The network will develop new services and facilities, including the Cy-Fair Professional Building, a three-story medical office building under construction on the FM 1960 side of the campus, and Cy-Fair Medical Partners, a newly-created physician network created to establish and manage four primary care clinics. The first one at FM 529 opened September 8th, a second one on Barker Cypress opened October 25th and a third location on Grant between Cypresswood and Jones opened November 13th. A fourth clinic at Willowbridge Square opens by the end of the year.

The Port of Houston Authority has signed a three-year agreement with Direct Energy for retail electric service making five percent of the $129 million kilowatt-hours used by the Port wind power-generated electricity. Direct Energy has signed long-term power purchase agreements from three west Texas wind farms—Buffalo Gap, Buffalo Gap 2 and the Sand Bluff Wind Farm.

An Eastman Chemical partner has been awarded a federal tax credit for a project to harness methanol from a proposed facility in east Texas. TX Energy and Eastman are developing the facility with a $130 million tax credit. It will produce methanol and other raw materials for Eastman’s chemical manufacturing plant in Longview, Texas. Eastman intends to off-take methanol from the project, which it would then convert into downstream products for its Longview site. The company expects the project to save money because it would be fueled either by coal or residue from crude oil known as petcoke. Eastman spokesman Mark Costa says the award to TX Energy was a key step in moving the project forward. Eastman is based in Kingsport, Tennessee.

Falcon Gas Storage plans to build a new 63-mile gas pipeline to serve its Worsham-Steed Gas Storage facility in north Texas. Commercial operations is slated to begin in September 2007.

The Holiday Inn Express in Pasadena has been purchased from NDJ by Harihar for an undisclosed sum. The 62-room two-story hotel on Spencer Highway was recently renovated.

The founder of a cement manufacturer is donating $5 million to help Texas State University at San Marcos open a new engineering school. School officials say the gift from Bruce and Gloria Ingram will enhance the prestige of the university’s fledgling engineering program. About 50 students have graduated from the program, and more than 600 are expected to enroll in the next few years. The Engineering and Technology Department will become the Bruce and Gloria Ingram School of Engineering and the Department of Technology. Bruce Ingram founded Ingram Readymix, which operates 26 concrete plants across the state. He and his wife lived in San Marcos for 34 years before moving to New Braunfels in 2004. The couple’s gift will be used to endow scholarships and three faculty positions.

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