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"For a book that doesn't meet our standards, there is no amount of money that would cause us to feature it" -- CEO Jeffrey Bezos, on Amazon.com's display-fee policyEDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

At Last, CEOs Get on the Bus

HERE'S ONE MORE '60s FLASHBACK. In an echo of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters, the hippies who tripped their way across America in a bus called Furthur, 400 corporate CEOs are sponsoring another crosscountry bus trip. This one will protest U.S. budget priorities.

The execs belong to Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities, and they want lawmakers to slice 15% from the Pentagon budget and spend the money on education and health instead. To get their point across, they've outfitted a 40-foot bus carrying performers and musicians that will show up at political campaign stops from April through the 2000 elections. The execs will drop in on the tour from time to time.

Bruce Klatsky, CEO of apparel maker Phillips-Van Heusen, says that while BLSP wants to lower defense spending, its members are "hardly left-wing." Says Klatsky: "We want the military to be subjected to the same criteria businesses are subjected to. The waste is insane." His group will budget up to $10 million for the whole thing, which kicks off with TV ads airing in late February. Commercials? Now that's something the Merry Pranksters never had.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Star TV Dims over Indonesia

ONCE, BEFORE "ASIAN" WAS A WORD SO OFTEN FOLLOWED by "financial crisis," Rupert Murdoch had high hopes for his satellite television network in Indonesia. In 1997, Star TV, based in Hong Kong, hooked up with Datakom Asia, an Indonesian outfit, hoping to flood TV sets in the world's fourth most populous nation with everything from HBO to E-mail birthday cards for subscribers.

Now, it looks like the party is over for Murdoch. The project, Indovision, counted only 9,000 paying subscribers even before Indonesia's financial meltdown. Then in 1998, Datakom insisted on switching to a new satellite, which ended up plagued by technical problems. Using it would have forced the partners to commit to yet another satellite, says Star TV, at a cost of $150 million.

So in December, Murdoch's company walked.

Datakom now says Star TV really reneged on the partnership because of Indonesia's financial crisis, using the satellite problems as an excuse. It promises to take Star TV to court. Star TV plans to concentrate on India, China, and Taiwan, writing off its investment and ambitions in Indonesia.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top

Is Nextel Being Prettied Up for Sale?

NEXTEL COMMUNICATIONS IS DOING SOME EARLY SPRING CLEANING. The big wireless phone carrier, based in McLean, Va., is selling its radio towers for $560 million and then leasing them back from SpectraSite Communications, a tower developer in Cary, N.C. As part of the deal, Nextel will get a 17% equity stake in SpectraSite, which will also build about 1,700 towers for Nextel within five years. The move is part of a trend in the wireless industry over the past year to focus on marketing services. "Building and owning towers is not what their business is all about," says SpectraSite CEO Stephen Clark.

But is there more going on than meets the eye? The deal is fueling speculation that Nextel, controlled by wireless pioneer Craig McCaw, is sprucing up its balance sheet for a sale. As the only independent national wireless carrier, Nextel has been frequently mentioned as a potential acquisition candidate. Since late December, its shares have advanced 50%, to about $30.

One potential suitor is MCI WorldCom, which has virtually no presence in the wireless industry. Nextel declined to comment on the possibility of a sale.EDITED BY ROBERT McNATTReturn to top


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