iiNet is buying Internode. The plans won't be changing, no-one is expected to lose their job in the short term and the two companies have very similar approaches. So why does this development still make me a little bit sad?
I, for one, welcome our new @iiNet overlords. Could be a *lot* worse for @Internode customers
It's very hard to argue with that. Internode founder Simon Hackett wanted Internode to partner with/get bought out by someone in an ever-consolidating market that's about to see radical change via the NBN. In those circumstances, iiNet is easily the best alternative by some distance. Both companies are well-regarded for their customer service, an area where ISPs generally rank somewhere between barely adequate and inciting murder. Plans from iiNet and Internode, while not the outright cheapest on the market, are still good value and offer a great range of extras like unmetered content. The two former rivals are invariably the main contenders when it comes to Lifehacker's annual reader-voted Best ISP award, and while Internode has generally won, voting has always been extremely close.
Thinking of the other potential buy-out candidates is enough to send a shiver down my spine. TPG would have reduced some plan prices and then have sacked most of the support staff. Dodo would have made embarrassing TV commercials. Optus would have spent all its time suggesting Internode customers bundle as many products as possible. Telstra would have raved about the importance of customer service but then forced every person who rang to talk to a dozen people before anything was achieved, and then got it all wrong anyway.
By comparison, iiNet is a genius choice of partner. I've wandered through the headquarters and support centres of both companies, and the similarities are pronounced. The big worry online is whether Internode will maintain its existing customer service team, and right now that's the plan. Indeed, because some customers currently on Telstra-wholesaled lines will be shifted to iiNet exchanges, the ability to fix issues when they actually arise will improve.
The perils of the market
It was while I was on the conference call yesterday where iiNet's CEO Michael Malone and Internode's Hackett discussed the deal that it became clear to me why the shift really made me sad. Listed companies are just no fun. iiNet has been listed since 199, but Internode, until now, has been privately held, with Hackett owning the vast majority of the company.
But now Internode is in the dull world of the ASX. During the call, I was the only journalist who asked about the impact on customers. We had question after question about debt levels, buyout terms, sources of financing and all that kind of accountancy stuff. I appreciate that business journalists need to find out about this stuff, but it made me glad that I don't have to do that any more.
It also made me realise that some of the fun stuff that Internode has been able to do as a privately-held company is probably going to vanish in the future. I don't imagine the Node Ponies are about to get slaughtered, and I'm hoping that the free Wi-Fi at Adelaide and other airports won't get killed. But any plan to extend that to other airports will now have to be approved by a full company board, and that just makes some things less likely.
Change and consolidation are inevitable. I'm an Internode customer but on a Telstra line, so it seems possible that I'll be an iiNet customer at some point in the future. I can certainly live with that. It just won't be quite the same.