GTE has proposed selling off its Internet "backbone"--the network of wires that carry the Net's data--in a bid to win federal approval for its pending merger with Bell Atlantic. Sending data across the country and around the globe amounts to being in the long-distance telephone business. As a former local Bell monopoly, Bell Atlantic is barred from expanding into long-distance outside New York until it opens its local markets to competition. Under the proposal the companies have floated to the Federal Communications Commission, the merged company would retain a 10 percent interest in the backbone and would have the right to buy up to 80 percent after five years.

Factory orders rose 1.2 percent in November, the first increase since August, as companies making electronic products enjoyed a surge in demand. The Commerce Department said the November increase in orders for manufactured goods followed no gain in October and a 1 percent decline in September. The rebound was the latest evidence that the U.S. economy was still growing at a robust rate as the year ended.

U.S. auto sales set a record in 1999, with 16.9 million new vehicles sold. Every major automaker, from giant General Motors to Korea's Daewoo Motor, sold more vehicles last year in the United States than they did in 1998, as industry sales went up 9 percent.

The Internal Revenue Service said that effective yesterday, companies that arrange banner-ad swaps on the World Wide Web won't have to report transactions with a fair market value of less than $1. The IRS said it may also draft new reporting regulations for both barter transactions and electronic commerce generally, and it invited comment from interested parties.

RECALLS Nordstrom is recalling about 5,300 children's sweat shirts because their metal heart-shaped zipper pull tabs could pose a choking hazard. The quarter-inch pulls can accidentally detach, and in one instance one nearly choked a child, Nordstrom and the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The company asked parents to return the sweat shirts to Nordstrom for a refund. The recalled shirts are either pink or blue with long sleeves, half-zippers and collars reading "Baby N" or "N Kids." For more information, consumers can call Nordstrom at 1-800-695-8000.

EARNINGS Gateway, the country's largest seller of personal computers to consumers, said its revenue and earnings for the fourth quarter will be below analysts' expectations. Gateway stock dropped to $57 in after-hours trading from its close of $62.25 on the New York Stock Exchange, where it lost 68 3/4 cents in regular trading.

LOCAL BUSINESS US Airways may train managers to work as flight attendants in case of a strike over contract talks that began in 1996, according to union spokesman Jeff Zack. In a recorded message to employees Monday, the Arlington-based airline said it was exploring ways to deal with a strike or other union job action by the 9,000-member Association of Flight Attendants. The flight attendants are in talks overseen by a federal

mediator and are not

now free to strike under labor law.

Human Genome Sciences of Rockville announced a 2-for-1 stock split, effective Jan. 31, for investors holding shares as of Jan. 14. The company's shares have tripled in value since July and a split had been expected for months. HGS stock closed yesterday at $145.62 1/2 a share, up 5 percent, on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

America Online announced partnerships with Compaq Computer and Casio Computer that will enable AOL subscribers to access their e-mail on the hardware makers' palm-size systems. Barry Schuler, AOL's president of interactive services, said the agreements are part of the Dulles-based company's "AOL Anywhere" strategy to allow access to the service from mobile devices.