Hard News by Russell Brown

How would it go on Trade Me?

THIS JUST IN: The rumours circulating this morning that iiNet would be selling its NZ subsidiary Ihug are correct. It's on the block. Obvious conclusion: the Aussies are seriously scratching for capital to respond to the investment implied by unbundling and have instead decided (in the words of the press release) to "take advantage of the more favourable trading conditions following the Government’s recent unbundling decision." Cash up and bail out the Australian business, in other words.

The announcement comes a couple of weeks after redundancies in the voice calling division and elsewhere. If you're interested in buying a major ISP, there'll be a memorandum by the end of the month.

Here's the press release, verbatim:

iiNet to unbundled ihug

iiNet Limited (ASX: IIN) today announced that it has initiated a formal sales process for its New Zealand ISP business, ihug.

iiNet Executive Chairman Peter Harley said the decision had been made following a large number of unsolicited approaches to purchase ihug.

Mr Harley said that the Board of iiNet has decided to take advantage of the opportunity to realise an enhanced value for the business in the light of recent favourable regulatory decisions and the improved trading performance of the business.

He said that the capital from the sale would be applied to funding further growth of the business in Australia and reducing gearing levels.

iiNet has appointed Grant Samuel in Auckland to manage the sale process. An Information Memorandum will be distributed at the end of July to potential purchasers and it is expected that the process will be completed by the end of 2006.

Keith Goodall, iiNet director and ihug chairman, said ihug was well placed to take advantage of the more favourable trading conditions following the Government’s recent unbundling decision and expects the ihug sale will attract strong interest from a number of prospective purchasers.

“We expect considerable interest in ihug from private equity investors in New Zealand and abroad”, he said.

“Ihug is particularly well placed to take advantage of the changing regulatory environment. Over the last 12 months the new management team has overhauled the product line up, re-energised the brand, and reduced operating costs. The business is performing well and is growing solidly.

“As New Zealand’s largest wholesaler of ADSL broadband, ihug has the scale to take advantage of local loop unbundling and has already announced its intension to deploy its own network once access to Telecom’s exchanges is permitted. This combined with ihug’s strong consumer brand should make ihug a very attractive proposition.”

ihug was established in 1994 and expanded into Australia in 1998. iiNet acquired the Australian and New Zealand operations which were of similar size in 2003. The Australian operation has since been integrated under the iiNet brand, while the New Zealand business has continued under the highly regarded ihug brand.

With over 120,000 services, ihug is now the third largest ISP in New Zealand, behind Telecom New Zealand’s xtra and Telstra Clear and the largest wholesaler of ADSL broadband. ihug - voted New Zealand's no.1 internet provider! (TUANZ 2005, Netguide 2006)

And while we're at it, news in the last couple of hours that Unlimited magazine has been taken over by Infego Communication Ltd, the company of former IDG general manager Julie Gill. Seems like a good result for them, and possibly a lot more fun than working for Fairfax at the other ex-IDG publications. There have been two redundancies at Unlimited and several from the former IDG staff. The most nerve-wracking thing for people there must surely be that Fairfax is still muddling around doing due dilgence ...

The Guardian has a couple of important items with respect to the war in Lebanon. The first is a news story claiming that the US has privately given Israel one more week to do whatever damage it can to Hezbollah before it weighs in behind international calls for a ceasefire.

The naive idea that Hezbollah can be eradicated from the air - so popular amongst the armchair generals - doesn't appear to feature in serious calculations. The story says a diplomatic process is already in train and that an emerging "peace formula" is likely to include an understanding on prisoner exchange.

The other item is an absorbing column by Jonathan Freedland that traces the contributions of Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel to the "perfect storm" of war, concisely explains the domestic political climate in Israel, speculates that the middle ground there is shrinking - and concludes on a profoundly gloomy note:

The greater legacy is the human one. Every bomb dropped by Israel will have broken hundreds of Lebanese hearts. Some will have lost loved ones; others will have seen bridges, streets and houses that were painstakingly restored after decades of war smashed into the ground. Those who witnessed it will not forget it, and they will carry a bitterness towards Israel for the rest of their lives, passing it on to their children. The bereaved families of Israeli civilians will feel the same way about their enemy. From all the rational, strategic calculations, this is the factor that is so often missing: the hatred sowed in the human heart. Both sides have ensured this dreadful conflict spreads, not just across borders - but down the generations.

Tragedy all round, then. Apart from the deaths on both sides, I think the saddest thing is that the Lebanese optimism laid waste this week is not so different from the optimism that raised modern Israel out of the desert. A report from the south in the Ms. Levantine blog sums up the anguish of being trapped between two sides and watching your dreams crumble

What can I say - I am living a nightmare. Just last week, Lebanon was expecting 1.6 million tourists, a record number since before the civil war. We were expecting $4.4 BILLION to be injected into our economy. Now it's in shambles …

May this reality not persist much longer. May Lebanon rise once again. May we emerge victorious and stronger and more unified and stable than we've ever been. With bridges, roads, and ports rebuilt. We will begin anew...Let the world live with the burden of guilt While we raise our heads high, with resilience so true. Lebanon, my faith in you is ever so deep.

On Ya Libnan, Nathalie Malham strikes a similar theme:

This summer was expected to be a ‘golden summer’ for Lebanon. Hotels were booked, tickets for festivals and concerts were sold out, and tourism was finally beginning to boom again in the country. Lebanon was finally beginning to show its true colors and break away from its war-torn image. All that, has been destroyed in just a matter of days- if not hours. But we can and will rebuild our infrastructure. We have done it before and we will do it again.

She continues:

No…. Hizbollah should not have kidnapped those two Israeli soldiers. They did that without the Lebanese population’s or the Lebanese government’s knowledge. Indeed, those two soldiers should be sent back to Israel. But that does not give the Israeli army the right to go and destroy entire villages and take away innocent lives or the right to bombard our whole infrastructure. They did not even try to negotiate before starting to destroy our infrastructure. Yes, Hizbollah should be disarmed. An immediate ceasefire must take place now and the international community must intervene to help do that so that the Lebanese government can take control again. Prime Minister Siniora is a good man, with his heart in the right place. We must give him the chance to take control. He cannot do so if there is no immediate cease-fire. This conflict has gone beyond the capture of the two soldiers. It has spilled over, way over into the danger zone. Do we really want to see the start of world war three? You tell me, is that what you want? Do we really want to ignore the value of human life? Day by day, more tears and blood are spilled….mainly in Lebanon right now but also on all sides. In Haifa, in Gaza, in Beirut…. In Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, let’s not forget in Iraq…. Is this really what you want? What for? What for? Please, just tell me what for.

Open Lebanon has much more bloggage.

No Right Turn notes the bizarre smacking manual published by the fundy Christian outfit Family Integrity.

His commenters wade in to the fundies' defence. And I guess they do have the right to believe that prolonged smacking rituals are necessary to drive "the sinful manifestations, out of the child’s personality" on the basis that:

Children are not little bundles of innocence: they are little bundles of depravity (see Psalm 51:5) and can develop into unrestrained agents of evil (Nero, Caligula, Lenin, Stalin, Charles Manson, Pol Pot to name a very few) unless trained and disciplined.

And they have the right to declare that those who have qualms about such "traditional common sense smacking" are "detached from reality". But they do not have the right to expect the law of a secular state to pay heed to the fairies at the bottom of their particular garden.

One of the more interesting elements of the Section 59 debate is the way in which media organisations allowed themselves to be persuaded that visiting lobbyist Ruby Harrold-Claesson was some sort of expert. I spent some time last night reading up on her, and she is a queer fish indeed. She's a lawyer twice declared "unsuitable" to represent legal aid clients in Swedish cases (because, she maintains, she is black) and who does not belong to the Swedish bar association (because, by her own account, she doesn't earn enough money, although she also apparently runs a private law firm in Gothenburg). Her organisation, the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, has no official status and the kind of website you normally see hawking dietary supplements. For all that, she has probably championed some genuine cases - in which children have been precipitately removed from families - but she also seems to have made cause celebres out of crazy people.

Barnados and Save the Children have both ripped into Harrold-Claesson in unusually strong terms. Approach with caution.

In brief: An Inconvenient Truth is great, you must go it see it and drag your friends along too - although I warmed far more to the slide show than the folksy stuff about Al Gore's farm upbringing and how his little boy nearly died, which seem calculated to appeal to a middle-American audience. There's quite a lot in the whole production for media students, including presentations that knock your standard Powerpoint talk into next week (the credits reveal that Gore had quite a lot of assistance with Keynote).

And … my guess is that Philip Taito Field is toast, later if not sooner.

NB: It having been a grim week, tomorrow will be Frivolous Friday. If you have anything amusing to share with me and the readers, send it on over.