Maryland regulators approved a settlement that allows providers of electric power to compete for customers in Maryland beginning July 1. The order also allows Potomac Electric Power Co. to sell its power plants, although the plant auction still must be approved by D.C. regulators. Under the Maryland settlement, rates for residential customers would be reduced by 7 percent and rates for commercial customers would be reduced by 4 percent. The order caps rates at the lower levels for four years. The deal would also require Pepco to split the proceeds from the sale of its power plants between ratepayers and shareholders.

3Com shares tumbled 8.8 percent, to $48.43 3/4, after the maker of computer networking equipment said earnings for its fiscal third quarter will miss forecasts as customers delay purchases because of year 2000 concerns.

NMC Medical Products, a longtime manufacturer of kidney-dialysis equipment, admitted that it sold dangerously defective dialysis blood tubing in the early 1990s, and agreed to pay a $3.8 million fine. NMC could have seriously injured or even killed patients, said U.S. Attorney Robert J. Cleary of New Jersey, who announced a court filing in which NMC pleaded guilty to Food and Drug Administration violations. NMC was based in Rockleigh, N.J., until 1996, when it merged with German-based Fresenius Medical Care.

U.S. economic growth was even more vigorous than previously thought in the third quarter, the Commerce Department said. Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the output of goods and services within U.S. borders, swelled at a revised 5.7 percent annual rate in the July-through period instead of the 5.5 percent reported earlier.

General Mills will donate an additional $63,000 for cancer research to resolve a complaint by Georgia officials over a national campaign involving Yoplait yogurt lids. The company had promised on specially marked lids to donate 50 cents to breast-cancer research for each lid returned; consumers had to open the yogurt to learn that the campaign had a $100,000 limit, Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox said. More than 9 million lids were returned, and the company eventually donated $200,000.

Microsoft Chief Financial Officer Greg Maffei resigned to become chief executive of Worldwide Fiber, a fiber-optic network firm. Maffei, 39, joined Microsoft in 1993 and was named chief financial officer in 1997. John Connors, 40, vice president of Microsoft's enterprise group, will replace Maffei.

Ford is starting a program to find and work with underachievers among its 20,000 top managers as the automaker tries to focus more on customers. The new system, which is to start Jan. 1, will grade managers as A, B or C. About 10 percent will be rated A, for those with the greatest potential for promotion. About 80 percent will be ranked B, for meeting expectations. The remaining 10 percent rated C will get coaching and guidance from their bosses.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Salix Technologies of Gaithersburg, which makes advanced telecommunications switches, said it has been acquired by Tellabs of Lisle, Ill., in an all-stock deal valued at $300 million. Dan Simpkins, founder and president of Salix, will continue to run the 80-person company in Gaithersburg as part of Tellabs Adaptive Network Solutions Division.

Orbital Sciences of Dulles sold 33 percent of one of its subsidiaries for $75 million in hopes of increasing the company's liquidity and reducing short-term debt. The satellite maker sold the stake in Vancouver, B.C.-based MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates to an investor group made up primarily of Canadian institutional investors.