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BUSINESS BRIEFLY

Mortgage rates drop after five-week rise

NEW YORK (AP) -- Rates on fixed mortgages dipped after rising for five weeks in a row.

Still, they remain more than a half-point higher than last month and are at the highest level since late spring.

Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage slipped to 4.81 percent from 4.83 percent in the previous week. Last month, the rate reached a 40-year low of 4.17 percent, but has since been edging higher.

The average rate on the 15-year loan, a popular refinance option, also fell to 4.15 percent from 4.17 percent. It hit 3.57 percent in November, the lowest level on records starting in 1991.

Rates had been rising since early November as investors shifted money out of Treasurys and into stocks on expectations that the recent tax-cut plan will boost economic growth and potentially increase inflation.

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FCC puts leash on Comcast

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The head of the Federal Communications Commission is proposing regulatory conditions to ensure that cable TV giant Comcast Corp. cannot stifle competition in the video market once it takes control of NBC Universal.

The conditions laid out Thursday by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski are intended to guarantee that satellite providers and other rival television services can still carry marquee NBC programming and that new Internet video distributors can get the content they need to grow and compete.

Comcast's takeover of NBC Universal could have profound consequences for the nascent market for Internet video -- a market that could eat into Comcast's core cable TV business if enough consumers drop their cable subscriptions in favor of low-cost alternatives online.

Genachowski wants to ensure that Comcast won't be able to use its control over NBC's vast media empire to withhold content from emerging online competitors.

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Skype back from outage

SEATTLE (AP) -- Internet calling and messaging service Skype SA mostly recovered Thursday from an outage caused by an undisclosed glitch, but problems lingered for its worldwide user base.

The service went down for almost all of its users starting at midday Eastern time on Wednesday. By Thursday afternoon, things had improved to the point where about 21 million users were logged in, said CEO Tony Bates. That was 10 percent less than the usual traffic for the time of day, as some people still could not log on.

Voice calling, video-chatting and text-based instant messaging are working for most users, Bates said.

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Irish bank nationalized

LONDON -- The Irish government on Thursday effectively nationalized Allied Irish Banks PLC after the nation's High Court approved the finance ministry's request to allow it to inject an additional 3.7 billion euros ($4.9 billion) of capital into the troubled lender.

The capital injection was required to ensure AIB meets the year-end capital requirement set by its regulator.

The move will eventually bring the Irish government's stake in AIB to 92.8 percent from its current level of 18.6 percent. The funds will come from the government's National Pension Reserve Fund.

AIB had owned 22 percent of Buffalo-based M&T Bank, but was forced by the Irish government to sell those shares in November to raise money.

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GM renews mining contract

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) -- General Motors Co. is renewing its ties to a Montana mining company that provides precious metals for emission-reducing catalytic converters, according to documents filed with federal regulators Thursday.

The deal restores a decadelong relationship that turned sour after GM filed for bankruptcy protection and abruptly dropped its supply agreement with Stillwater Mining Co.

That move in July 2009 drew a sharp backlash from Montana's congressional delegation and its Democratic governor, Brian Schweitzer.

They criticized the Detroit automaker for abandoning an American company in favor of cheaper foreign suppliers.

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