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In today's Motley Fool Take:

Voters Reject Wal-Mart

By Seth Jayson

A couple of days ago, I wrote a brief article about Wal-Mart's(NYSE: WMT)attempt to skirt city government and construct a Supercenter in Inglewood, Calif. The world's biggest retailer sponsored a ballot initiative that would not only have let it build the store with no traffic review and no environmental oversight, but also prevented changes to the plan unless another election was held and two-thirds of voters agreed.

Yesterday, Inglewood's voters rejected that initiative by a margin of 60% to 40%. I'll no doubt be branded a hippy-commie-pinko for saying this, but I am glad to see 04-A go down in flames. I'm all for free enterprise, but not at the cost of local control.

Shareholders and shoppers may disagree, but it is the duty of civic governments to regulate their communities. They have every right to reject a company if they are concerned about issues like low wages, union-busting, and skewed competition to established grocers like Safeway(NYSE: SWY) and Albertson's(NYSE: ABS).

We should note that Wal-Mart could have built the store without 04-A. The Inglewood government had already reversed its ban on big-box retailers. So why did Wal-Mart go through with it? Because it could. And that's the scary precedent for California.

Ballot initiatives are meant as a democratic safety valve for disenfranchised citizens. It's a perverse exploitation of the process when a company with the economic clout of an entire nation plays the victim and tries to spend its way around local ordinances. (Anyone else see the paradox in the fact that Wal-Mart was paying signature collectors more than it pays its retail employees?)

Even Fools who disagree with that ethical stance ought to realize the potential for economic backlash against the firm's tactics. Wal-Mart's success at the expense of its competitors and suppliers already generates enough bad press. It should avoid alienating the public -- and higher government authorities -- through political bullying. There may be more at stake than the $1 million thrown away in Inglewood.

Fool contributor Seth Jayson hopes Inglewood and Wal-Mart can reach a mutual agreement after all this fuss. He owns no stake in any firm mentioned above. View his Fool profile here.

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Don't Believe the Skype

By Dave Mock

With Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell still wrestling with how the U.S. government should or should not regulate Internet telephony, provider companies haven't skipped a beat in pushing ahead toward the age of voice over Internet protocol (VOIP).

Major carriers and equipment suppliers such as Verizon Communications(NYSE: VZ) and Nortel Networks(NYSE: NT) have been hustling to deploy new VOIP capable equipment and services. Smaller start-ups, such as deltathree(Nasdaq: DDDC) and privately held Vonage, have also been aggressive in trying to carve out a profitable niche in the future of data telephony.

Recently, another popular private player leading users into the convergence age -- a company called Skype -- announced software that enables mobile calling over data networks. With the software, voice calls can use broadband access points (Wi-Fi hotspots) and the Internet to complete calls between users. Because the calls need to originate and terminate on devices using Skype's software, it's referred to as peer-to-peer (P2P) telephony (it can't call traditional phones -- yet).

The company announced the slimmed-down version of its desktop software, called PocketSkype, for use on Pocket PC devices using Microsoft's(Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows Mobile operating system. Of course, the Pocket PC must have a Wi-Fi card and be in range of a hotspot to make the call.

Skype CEO Niklas Zennstrom touted the new offering in an interview: "Say that you're traveling. You just fire it up in your hotel, in Starbucks or wherever, and you can start making and receiving Skype calls completely free of charge."

Cool. The only problem is -- it's not completely free. Heck, it's not even partially free.

Who told Mr. Zennstrom that Wi-Fi in Starbucks(Nasdaq: SBUX) is free? Much to the chagrin of many wireless geeks (myself included), most venues offering Wi-Fi services charge for access -- and it's anything but cheap. Daily access fees at many hotspots in hotels and cafes run anywhere from $5 to $8. Monthly subscriptions for unlimited use go for $20 and up. And cheaper levies are often contingent on subscribers signing up for additional services.

So, for those who are dreaming of dumping all your fixed and mobile carriers for free VOIP calls, go back to sleep. Keep a watch on Skype, though, like other VOIP offerings, it's a great product with a tremendous value for users. Just don't expect it to displace traditional services anytime soon.

Fool contributor Dave Mock is so cheap, he'll walk five miles uphill in the California snow to reach a free Wi-Fi hotspot. He'll just stop at Starbucks -- a stock he owns -- to pick up a latte on the way. Dave owns no other stocks mentioned here.

Qu ote of Note

"If A is success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut." -- Albert Einstein

The Death of Dollar Downloads?

By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)

No sooner have digital tunes really started to catch on, we hear that the $0.99-per-song -- or less, if you go toWal-Mart(NYSE: WMT) -- price tag is under threat. According to TheWall Street Journal, the recording industry is trying to cook up ways to charge folks more for music. Even Apple's(Nasdaq: AAPL) iTunes and Roxio's(Nasdaq: ROXI) Napster services have been charging premiums for some of the big names and hot new releases, the article said.

It's no secret that the recording industry's not adjusting well to change. Illegal downloading -- made notorious by services like Kazaa and the now-legit Napster -- continues, and is still blamed for bleak revenue shortfalls in the industry. But will the legally downloading public pay more than it's already paying per song? What about paying nearly as much for a downloaded album as for a CD? I think not.

While recording industry stalwarts like Sony(NYSE: SNE), Time Warner(NYSE: TWX), BMG, EMI, and Vivendi(NYSE: V) may be suffering, now seems a dangerous time to start to squeeze. The $0.99 per song, or $9.99 per album, download appeals to consumers in terms of convenience and economy. The article threw out prices sometimes as high as $16.99 for a downloaded album and $2.49 for a downloaded song.

Hiking prices to more than just chump change or, in the case of albums, close to levels charged by traditional record stores, AMZN) or Best Buy(NYSE: BBY) could be playing a dangerous game. After all, buying a more expensive CD does have some benefits -- cover art and lyrics topping the list, not to mention that collectible element. It seems doubtful that a download's value is perceived as comparable to that of a CD, at least not yet.

Wooing people to the side of the law by offering downloads for less than a buck has been very successful thus far. However, it's a touchy business. The Internet and music are both perceived as "free" mediums. The terms "ripping" and "burning" -- i.e., recording friends' CDs onto blank discs -- may be new, but it's hardly a new concept, given that people have been copying albums for years.

Though the economics of the situation seem dire, the names behind the RIAA haven't won too much sympathy from music fans recently. And speaking of rock 'n' roll rebellion, if squeezed too tight, renegades -- who all the piracy coverage revealed to be just regular people like you and me -- will probably soon cook up other ways to rock on.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.

Di scussion Board of the Day: Apple

Do you love iTunes? Are you willing to pay up to $2.49 for a single song, or do you think that is highway robbery? Would this limit your downloading? Talk about issues like this and more on the Apple discussion board. Only on

Mo re on Today

Want to know the secret behind Tom Gardner's picks in his newsletter Motley Fool Hidden Gems? Find out in Small Stocks, Big Gains.... It seems like it is all about tech stocks these days. Bill Mann has his opinion on the matter in The Big Tech Scramble.... And Dave Mock wants to pitch the case for Qualcomm in Has Qualcomm's Time Come?

In other news:

For a list of all our stories from today, see our Today's Headlines page.