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Issue: "Remaking the family," March 6, 2004

Tough call

Cingular Wireless appears to be the big winner in the AT&T Wireless sweepstakes, outbidding Britian's Vodafone Group for the right to pay more than $40 billion for the nation's third-largest wireless company.

But if Cingular Wireless is the winner, then who are the losers?

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For starters, it could be Verizon Wireless. The proposed deal, which must be approved by AT&T Wireless shareholders and federal regulators, would create the nation's largest mobile-phone company with 46 million subscribers. Current market leader Verizon Wireless has 37.5 million customers.

Some consumer advocates worry that consumers could wind up on the short end as well. They fear that by trimming the number of cellular companies in the market, the merger will reduce the competition that has driven down prices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of cellular services has fallen nearly 30 percent since 1998.

Still, consumers likely will benefit from a smaller industry with bigger players. As consolidation continues, wireless network coverage areas should increase, resulting in better reception and fewer dropped calls. c

Spreading out

Congress last week debated President Bush's plan to allow illegal immigrants to temporarily work legally in the United States, but there will be no quick decision.

The president's proposal would allow undocumented workers to gain short-term legal status while participating in a worker program. Once their jobs end, they would have to leave the country to apply for legal residency. Those who entered illegally may not return for years, leaving many unanswered questions.

What will happen to aliens whose children are U.S. citizens? Or whose spouses are legal permanent residents? "Do we have the appetite for asking parents of U.S. citizens to leave?" asked Muzaffar Chishti, director of New York University Law School's Migration Policy Institute office.

While undocumented workers historically migrate to border states like California and Texas, a recent study by the University of Southern California shows the issue is spreading across the country. Thirty-four states attracted a greater share of new immigrants in 2000 than in 1990, with Georgia and North Carolina among the states reporting the largest gains.

Also telling: The poverty level of California's foreign-born population dropped in 2000. Other states may initially face the burden of immigrant poverty, said USC's Dowell Myers. "But ultimately the settled immigrants will be upwardly mobile almost everywhere."

America Online is suing a central Florida computer company for allegedly helping spam operators based in Thailand distribute at least 35 million junk e-mails offering low mortgage rates. The spam generated 1.5 million complaints from members. Connor Miller Software claims it did nothing wrong in setting up a program that sent messages in bulk to a legally purchased e-mail list.

President Bush's 2005 budget calls for the two agencies responsible for making the nation's money-the Bureau of Engraving and the United States Mint-to explore a possible merger. The government is looking for ways to cut costs and boost efficiency and this is one possibility, according to a Treasury Department official.

Millions of music fans will receive refund checks as part of a $143 million settlement of a price-fixing lawsuit against five distributors and three retailers. Checks for $13.86 each were mailed out to 3.5 million consumers who bought CDs, vinyl records, or cassettes between 1995 and 2000 and filed refund claims by last March. Attorneys general for 43 states and territories filed the antitrust lawsuit in 2000, alleging the companies conspired to illegally raise the prices of their products by imposing minimum pricing policies. All the companies denied any wrongdoing.

A consortium of philanthropies has pledged an initial $22 million to create jobs and businesses in northeastern Ohio, a region hit hard by declines in manufacturing. The Fund for Our Economic Future has set a goal of raising $30 million to replace jobs lost in the steel and heavy machinery industries. The Cleveland Foundation, which pledged nearly half of the money, is one of 28 foundations taking part.

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