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Business in brief: Talks center on cell phone fees

The government is quietly negotiating to help cell phone customers avoid expensive fees when they cancel contracts with wireless companies, the Associated Press has learned.

Cell phone companies routinely charge customers $175 or more for quitting their service early. Under a proposal to the Federal Communications Commission, the wireless industry would give consumers the opportunity to cancel service without any penalty for up to 30 days after they sign a cell phone contract or until 10 days after they receive their first bill.

The proposal also would cap such fees and reduce them month by month over the course of a contract based on how long customers have left, according to people familiar with the offer speaking on condition of anonymity because the FCC has not accepted it. The plan would not abolish cancellation fees entirely.

In exchange for the government’s approval, the agreement would let cell phone companies off the hook in state courts where they are being sued for billions of dollars by angry customers. If approved by the FCC, the proposal also would take away the authority of states to regulate the charges, known as early termination fees.

Associated Press

Omaha, Neb.

Buffett lunch will be up for auction

Bidders on eBay will have the chance to win lunch with billionaire Warren Buffett next month.

Last year, two investors paid $650,100 for the chance to have lunch with the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

The auction benefits the Glide Foundation, which provides social services to the poor and homeless in San Francisco.

This will be the sixth year Buffett auctions a lunch on eBay and donates the proceeds to the foundation.

This year’s auction will begin at 7 p.m. Pacific time on June 22 and end at 7 p.m. Pacific time on June 27.

The winner and up to seven friends will dine with Buffett at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in New York City.

Associated Press

Potash suddenly a hot commodity

PotashCorp isn’t what you would call a glamour stock: It makes fertilizer. Nevertheless, the stock has soared 203 percent the past 12 months.

The world isn’t running short of potash. At current consumption rates, there’s enough to last 300 years, according to the International Fertilizer Industry Association. But there does seem to be limitless optimism about future fertilizer use – as well as the upward spiral in the cost of potash itself, up 150 percent over the past 12 months.

Commodities are the first growth industry of the 21st century. The prices of energy, basic metals and foodstuffs have soared, and so, some say, has speculation. This year alone, cocoa is up 40 percent, copper has soared 24 percent, and corn has risen 33 percent. And the price charts for some commodities are beginning to look suspiciously like the Nasdaq fever line in 1999, just before the tech-laden stock index crashed in March 2000.

USA Today