Weekend news roundup

7 Feb 2011

A quick glance at some of the technology stories breaking in the weekend papers, from Eircom seeking a fresh round of financing and how analysts fear online TV piracy to Mark Zuckerberg’s dad’s advice on kids and technology.

Eircom seeking €300m in new financing

The Sunday Times reported Eircom is considering proposals to inject €300m in cash into the company as it battles to avoid breaching its banking covenants. Singapore Technologies Telemedia, which owns a majority stake in Eircom, has signalled to the company’s management that it is prepared to inject €200m. The Employee Share Ownership Trust (ESOT), which owns 35pc of Eircom, is discussing plans to invest up to €100m to avoid a dilution of its stake.

Under the proposals, some of the cash would be used to buy back Eircom’s debt at a discount, particularly its payment-in-kind (PIK) notes of junior debt. Senior STT executives are expected in Dublin within two weeks to discuss the proposals.

Eircom’s management, led by CEO Paul Donovan, is rewriting its three-year business plan after being asked by STT to review it because of deteriorating market conditions in Ireland.

Eircom said the review was routine but it is understood that the new business plan must be finalised before STT will take the plunge to invest.

The review is expected to be completed within weeks.

Google executive arrested in Egypt

The Wall Street Journal reported that more than a week after his mysterious disappearance in Egypt, Google’s top executive in the Middle East and political activist Wael Ghonim will be released from government detention on Monday, according to his family and a prominent businessman.

During his disappearance, Ghonim, a father of two who is in his 30s, emerged as a central symbol of the anti-government protests, cast as the face of a movement and hero in the cause of democracy. Protest organisers in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square adopted him as a symbolic leader. Suspecting his arrest – but having no proof – they declared in speeches they wouldn’t leave the square until he was freed. Marchers carried homemade signs emblazoned with his name. At the same time, some local media suggested Ghonim’s political activities make him a traitor to his nation.

On Sunday, Egyptian authorities broke the silence on Ghonim’s fate, according to his brother, Hazem Ghonim. “They told us they’ll probably bring him to us, and that he will likely be escorted by security,” he said from Cairo.

Billionaire businessman Naguib Sawiris also said on Sunday that Egypt’s vice-president told him Ghonim would be released. “The boy is a hero,” Sawiris said. “When he is released he will become the living hero of this revolution.”

Fresh fears over TV piracy online

The Observer reported how broadcasting analysts are predicting a fresh tide of television piracy in the wake of the launch of Sky Atlantic, the glossy satellite channel that has bought the UK rights to many of America’s most successful drama series, including Mad Men and The Sopranos.

Fans of popular and acclaimed US shows such as the Prohibition-era Boardwalk Empire and comedy drama Entourage are already honing new, illicit ways of accessing episodes of the shows they love without the need to pay at least £20 a month to subscribe to Sky.

Analysts say “streaming” from unofficial websites will peak in the next few months. After that, many believe, increased demand will bring new and cheaper ways to watch television over the internet into the mainstream.

While many non-subscription viewers are still happy to wait for the release of DVD box sets, younger audiences are already resorting to streaming bootleg episodes from sites not sanctioned by the programmes’ ‘rights-holders’.

“If I have a good connection I will download a whole show in bits, with Torrent, and see it whenever I like,” said Jake, a 21-year-old trainee chef from Bournemouth, “but otherwise I will stream a show from somewhere. It is not about the money. It is about impatience and getting some power back.”

A technology lesson for parents and teachers

USA Today reported how Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s dad, Dr Edward Zuckerberg, revealed that an early exposure to computers inspired his son’s interest in technology and he encouraged parents to support their children’s strengths and passions with a balance of “work and play”.

“My kids all grew up around the office and were all exposed to computers,” said Dr Edward Zuckerberg, a dentist. “There are advantages to being exposed to computers early on. That certainly enriched Mark’s interest in technology.”

Zuckerberg said he computerised his offices in 1985. Mark was born in 1984 and was raised in the house where his father’s dental offices are located in Dobbs Ferry, New York, in suburban Westchester.

The dentist said his own computer science background was “limited” – he majored in biology in college – but he said he’s “always been technologically oriented in the office” and “always had the latest high-tech toys,” including an early Atari 800.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years