"[Their] first English word will be 'Google."' -- MIT prof Nicholas Negroponte, to The Washington Post, on the impact of a $100 laptop Massachusetts Institute of Technology is developing for kids in poor countries
The Republic of Macedonia, known primarily as the southern leg of the country formerly known as Yugoslavia, may soon become known as the first Wi-Fi nation. On Nov. 21, Macedonian Net service provider On.Net is expected to announce plans to connect almost all 2 million residents of the ancient mountainous country with a Wi-Fi network stretching across 30 cities and spanning more than 1,000 square miles. To put that in context, imagine countless Starbucks (SBUX) hotspots placed back to back. "The Macedonia project validates Wi-Fi as a serious contender to cellular networks," says Esme Vos, founder of MuniWireless.com and an expert on municipal Wi-Fi.
The zippy service will sell for about $18 a month, vs. the $47 consumers now pay for far slower service from the incumbent phone company. That offer, in a country where 2004 per capital gross national income was $2,350, will help push Internet usage from last year's 2.5% to 30% by 2007, predicts On.Net CEO Predag Cemerikic, 39. He started On.Net in 2000 after running a broadcast TV company. "We need a more affordable solution," he says. With equipment from U.S.-based Strix Systems, On.Net has already set up Wi-Fi across the capital of Skopje, home of half of Macedonia's population. It expects to reach most of the nation in six months.
Corrections and Clarifications
"Wireless heads for the hills" (Up Front, Nov. 28) incorrectly states when On.Net was started. The correct date was 2000.
Computer hackers have a clever new way to dodge crime fighters. They're taking over poorly monitored chat rooms and message boards at public Web sites and using them to hawk stolen IDs, credit-card numbers, and malicious software. Hackers are responding to cops' and cyber-security firms' scrutiny of underground trading sites. "They are using these message boards as a place to communicate that may not be on the radar," says an FBI cyber-crime analyst.
Bad guys pop up in the darnedest places. At BeatSoup.com, the site of a Boston ska band, the chat room has dozens of sleazy ads, including a Nov. 12 post from infernohackware offering to sell software code for $50 to break into PayPal (EBAY) accounts. The site's administrator didn't respond to requests for comment. Even on Policefamilies.com, run by the Nashville police department, a kids' message board contains postings for stolen bank-account data. Access to the board was blocked in September. "We'll probably eliminate it," says site manager Lorraine Greene. Things may get worse. Analysts say hackers are using "automated forum-spamming bots" -- programs that hunt for online forums, automatically register, then send spam offering loot to other hackers. Think of it as direct mail for the cyber-crime economy.
Packed into a complex of warehouses in Houston is the last best chance to extract value from the Enron name. The 3.3-acre site, once home to the company's broadband unit, is now filled floor to ceiling with crates of records that the Enron board is using to try to recover billions from bankers and other former advisers. Since emerging from bankruptcy in November, 2004, Enron has recovered $2.2 billion of cash and other consideration from JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and four other banks. Suits are outstanding against five others.
It's just part of a massive effort to liquidate Enron's remaining assets and pay part of the $100 billion still claimed by creditors. The board hopes to have bids for Prisma, a collection of overseas gas pipelines, as soon as January. That's when a trial of former execs Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Rick Causey is set to begin, which may complicate things. The liquidation created the legal equivalent of a toxic Superfund site. Armies of attorneys file through the warehouses, seeking documents from more than 120,000 crates. Workers fetch color-coded boxes from towering shelves. Paralegals make sure the proper documents are inside. And clerks in a copy shop scan, print, and collate. Hardly the "asset-light" strategy Skilling envisioned -- but perhaps it will prove more fruitful.
If your office photocopier is running out of ink, blame Gap (GPS). The clothing chain's new holiday "gift guide" includes this pointer on how to dress up a present: "Start with a colorful gift and stay late at work one day. Use the color copier to 'copy' the gift and then make your own wrapping paper from the prints." Then hide from your office manager. At 10 cents to 15 cents a page, wrapping just a shirt box might cost 90 cents. Gap spokesman Greg Rossiter says workers need to be aware of their employers' policies on personal copying. But he says the wrapping tip "recognizes that at this time of year customers' work and personal time is indistinguishable." Rossiter wouldn't comment on Gap's own internal copier policy.
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NOTABLE POST: A report, with pictures, on a "barkitecture" contest sponsored by the hip Design Within Reach furniture store chain: "The challenge [to architects] was to create a doghouse, with a volume not exceeding three cubic feet, that was under $1,000 and used at least some 'green' materials."
For dirty talk and not-so-subtle sexual innuendo, Howard Stern is your man. But can Stern, 51, elevate two budding media technologies? We may soon find out. America will be exposed, as it were, to wall-to-wall Stern starting on Nov. 17 on Letterman and running through a Dec. 4 spot on 60 Minutes. Stern will be promoting the Jan. 1 start of his gig with SIRIUS Satellite Radio, which will pay him $500 million over five years. And on Nov. 18 his older shows start selling via iN DEMAND's video-on-demand service. Sirius expects Stern to add 1 million new subscriptions, at $12.95 a month. And CEO Rob Jacobson of iN DEMAND says operators are getting calls for Stern classics repackaged as Girls, Girls, Girls and Get Naked.
Things got truly wacky on Nov. 7 when Stern's employer, Infinity Radio, suspended him for a day because he blabbed too much about the switch. Yet two of the promos are set to run on CBS -- which, like Infinity, is owned by Viacom (VIA). Stay tuned.
Corrections and Clarifications
In "Get set for wider exposure" (Up Front, Nov. 28), iN DEMAND's chief executive was misidentified. He is Rob Jacobson.
Is Bank of America (BAC) intentionally trying to chase off depositors? That's what some analysts and rival bankers are speculating, given the bank's decision to let the rates it pays on certificates of deposit and money-market accounts suddenly fall way below those of other banks. In July, BofA's six-month Jumbo CDs were paying 2.75% in San Francisco -- about a quarter-point below the local average. But by Nov. 1, they were paying just 1.49% -- about half the 2.95% current city average, according to a survey conducted for BusinessWeek by Bankrate. Ditto in Houston, where BofA's rate on five-year CDs has fallen from the 3.49% it paid in July to 2.47% on Nov. 1 -- below the 3.87% average at other Houston banks. Bankrate found similar trends in Boston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, and Tampa.
The cuts may be BofA's way of complying with a congressional law that forbids banks to amass more than 10% of the nation's deposits through an acquisition, says Richard Bove, a banking analyst at Punk Ziegel. He notes that BofA's pending $35 billion deal for MBNA (KRB) would put it ever so slightly over that 10% cap. Bove suspects BofA began cutting rates in hopes that enough depositors would defect in time for the regulatory review, which is under way. In fact, BofA's total deposits slipped from $640 billion to $633 billion between June and October.
BofA's CFO, Al de Molina, told analysts in October that the bank chose to be less generous with CD rates as a way of "balancing market share and profitability." However, a BofA spokesman denies any effort to drive off customers.
Manga, the distinctive Japanese comic-book style, is sweeping the planet. Now it's being asked to rescue the moribund U.S. newspaper industry. Starting in January, a handful of papers, including The Los Angeles Times, will introduce manga-style comics to their Sunday funny pages. Universal Press Syndicate and Tokyopop, a U.S.-based entertainment company that publishes and develops Japanese comics in translation, will distribute two strips: Van Von Hunter, a warrior epic spoof, and Peach Fuzz, a playful chronicle of a 9-year-old girl and her pet ferret. Both are penned by Americans in English.
This summer, the success of anime- and manga-inspired products prompted a story in BusinessWeek to ask if Japan's animation products could be that nation's next big export (BW -- June 27). The distinctive manga style -- with wide-eyed characters and fantastic storylines -- has inspired pop fashion as exemplified in artist Takashi Murakami's colorful, cartoony handbags for Louis Vuitton.
Newspaper publishers hope that manga can also draw in desperately needed younger readers; just 40% of 18-to-24-year-olds read a daily paper, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Still, the sight of a ferret where Snoopy once reigned may lead some old-time readers to exclaim: "Good grief!"