News Digest (Gwen Moritz Commentary)

News Digest

• My son's philosophy on life is this: Nothing should change, ever. We learned years ago to give him as much notice as possible if anything in his life was going to be different from what he would normally expect, because changes in his routine make him cranky.

Scott Ford, CEO of Alltel Corp., used a similar parenting technique by giving employees, and the rest of the world, almost three months of notice that the wireline side of the business would be sold or spun off into another company. No one should have been very cranky after the details became public on Dec. 9. It was just as advertised: A spinoff merger with a smaller wireline provider (Valor Communications of Irving, Texas), with the result being another publicly traded company to be headquartered in Little Rock. Wireline employees in Arkansas are no more likely to lose their jobs now than they were before the announcement. As a friend who works for Alltel told me long ago, "When you work for Corporate America, you don't get any guarantees."

Until the announcement, Valor was a name familiar only to a few thousand Arkansas customers in the Texarkana area. Valor was the state's 12th-largest local exchange carrier in 2004, as ranked by assessable revenue in Arkansas. That revenue, $4.17 million, was barely 4 percent of the local exchange revenue Alltel reported in Arkansas last year.

After the spinoff and merger are completed, Valor (or whatever the resulting wireline company is called) will bump up close to No. 2 CenturyTel in Arkansas revenue. But in total revenue, it will be close to Fortune 500 status. Whether it ever cracks the 500 will depend primarily on the acquisitiveness of the new management; the wireline business just isn't going to be doing much organic growth.

Alltel shareholders will automatically be Valor shareholders. We'll see how that shakes out when the new company's stock starts trading. It is notable that on the first two trading days after the Valor announcement, Alltel director Warren Stephens bought up another $11.35 million worth of Alltel stock. Think of the dividends on 11 million shares of Alltel and 11.5 million shares of Valor.

• Well, hooray for Asa Hutchinson. The presumptive Republican candidate for governor says plainly that he is opposed to the Loan Shark Figleaf of 1999 and would work with the Arkansas Legislature to put an end to predatory lending in Arkansas. (See Senior Editor George Waldon's story.)

Mike Beebe, I know you are the attorney general and are in a tough spot on this issue, but I fervently hope those contributions that multiple payday lenders made to the Democratic Party of Arkansas on the same day last July weren't designed to get your attention.

• Did you read Assistant Editor Chip Taulbee's article last week on the future of wireless Internet access? In the past year, the Moritz household has abandoned dial-up for DSL, abandoned cable TV for satellite, learned to love DVR and become text-message enabled if not proficient. Thanks to the arrival of the designated season for buying electronic gadgetry, we now own a notebook computer that searches the air around us for wireless onramps to the information superhighway (and will supposedly burn DVDs, but I haven't let my 11-year-old figure that out for me yet).

We are not using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) for phone calls, yet, but the wireless Internet will eventually be all we need for information, communication and entertainment. No one seemed interested in the last discussion question I posed in this column (Is it time for a single-payer health insurance system in the United States?), but I'll ask another one: Would it be better or worse for the country's economy if wireless Internet were a government service like roads and sewers? I think I could easily argue it both ways.

• Speaking of the buying season: Is anyone else bewildered by the near hysteria over the so-called war on Christmas? I feel sorry for retailers who have to choose between alienating shoppers who do not attach religious significance to Dec. 25 (which includes many Christians, a fact Fox News blowhard Bill O'Reilly seems to have missed) and those who want their Christianity affirmed with every ring of the cash register. Me, I'm still looking for a few last-minute bargains, and you don't have to wish me a merry anything if the price is right.

• The best holiday card I've seen this year, and maybe ever, came from Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods. Santa and an ivory-billed woodpecker enjoy a cup of punch at a party, and Santa asks, "So tell me again... which one of us doesn't exist?"

Like CJRW, I wish you the happiest of holidays.