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Consumer Confidential: Back-to-school prices, telecom tie-ups

August 19, 2011 |  8:40 am

Here's your don't-you-forget-about-me Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- It's back-to-school time, and it's going to cost you. But many stores would rather you didn't notice. Some are using less fabric for the clothing and calling it the new look. Others are adding cheap stitching and trumpeting it as a redesign. And the buttons on that blouse? Chances are you're not going to think it's worth paying several dollars more for the shirt just to have them. Retailers are raising prices on merchandise an average of 10% across the board this fall in an effort to offset their rising costs for materials and labor. The new strategies come as merchants' production and labor costs are expected to rise as much as 20% in the second half of the year after having remained low during most of the last two decades.

-- More consolidation may be ahead for telecom companies. Sprint Nextel is reportedly in talks with cable companies over a new round of investment that may lead to a full takeover of 4G partner Clearwire. Sprint is said to be in discussions with investors Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. According to Bloomberg, Sprint may use the investment to fund acquisition of the remaining stake in Clearwire that it doesn't own. Such a scenario could provide relief to cash-strapped Clearwire, which is seeking funding to stay alive and expand its network with faster technology. The company needs $600 million for its network upgrade and additional money to keep its operations going. Sprint, with a 54% stake in Clearwire, is both its largest shareholder and customer.

-- David Lazarus