AT&T Grabs T-Mobile, Online Retail’s Tax Drain, Thoughts from “Chasm” Author Geoffrey Moore, & More in the Seattle-area Tech Roundup

3/22/11Follow @curtwoodward

The Seattle area’s longstanding prominence in the wireless carrier sector was thrown into question this weekend with AT&T’s announcement that it was purchasing Bellevue, WA-based T-Mobile USA for $39 billion. It will take months to see how the feds handle this proposed acquisition.

But at least in the meantime, AT&T is saying all the right things: The combination will drive better broadband coverage, competition won’t be diminished, and of great interest locally, that it will maintain a significant presence in the Puget Sound region. It’s worth revisiting a great interview that Xconomy’s Greg Huang did with Tom Huseby for some of the history behind this big news.

—Another of this region’s tech heavyweights, Amazon.com, continues to make news for reasons it surely doesn’t like: The ongoing drive by state officials to make hay with the public by targeting Amazon’s reluctance to become a sales-tax collector. But a bit of news from Olympia points out that bringing Amazon to heel isn’t the salve politicians may be looking for. As illustrated by the state’s chief economist, even though Amazon collects sales taxes here in Washington, the state Revenue Department is still missing out on probably half the sales tax revenue it should be getting from Internet retail. Think about that: Even with the behemoth of online retail doing its bit, Washington state’s strapped budget is still not able to collect some $370 million each year—a figure that looks to continue growing at a steep pace.

—I had a chance to interview business consultant, author, and venture capitalist Geoffrey Moore (of the book “Crossing the Chasm”) ahead of his speech to the Technology Alliance’s Washington Innovation Summit, and he stirred up all sorts of interesting ideas. Check out the whole thing for Moore’s take on why middle managers are key in a flattened-out business world, why social networking and powerful online communication tools are the next big frontier for business IT investment, how big companies have to change to build innovation into their DNA, and the million-users-first, revenue-later model of the new tech bubble. And from the small-world department: Moore is related to Technology Alliance director Susannah Malarkey.

—With the natural disasters in Japan now threatening to spin into a full-blown nuclear crisis, we noted that the folks at Nathan Myhrvold’s Intellectual Ventures were vigorously defending the next-generation technology behind their TerraPower spinoff, a nuclear-power company that counts Bill Gates among its supporters. In a post on its blog (under the anodyne headline “Our perspective on events in Japan”), IV said rather bluntly that TerraPower’s “traveling wave” technology made the Japanese plant’s tech look like “a Ford Model T.” Intellectual Ventures said it was making this point in response to unspecified inquiries about TerraPower in the wake of the ongoing efforts to repair the Japanese plant.

—On the cleantech-meets-IT front, we had an update from Verdiem, the power-management software company that’s been quietly growing its footprint and is poised to make a big move from managing PCs to being the traffic cop for electricity usage for the broader realm of networked hardware. One big part of that transition is a change in CEOs—longtime Seattle-area tech entrepreneur Jeremy Jaech has left the company, replaced by John Scumniotales, who said the switch was mutually agreed upon. Scumniotales sees an opportunity to really kick innovation and products up a notch, and Jaech reports that he’s moving over to his alma mater, the University of Washington, in a somewhat undefined “thinker in residence” (my label) role that will probably focus on finding emerging tech platforms.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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