NEW YORK – AT&T Inc.’s incoming chief executive said on Wednesday that the top U.S. phone company was open to overseas acquisitions, but it was less interested in such deals in the United States.
Chief Operating Officer Randall Stephenson, who will become CEO when Ed Whitacre retires on June 3, also said AT&T did not have to own a U.S. satellite television provider — throwing cold water on speculation that it could buy partner EchoStar Communications Corp.
“Internationally there might be opportunistic opportunities over time that will enhance our international product set and capabilities,” he told a Lehman Brothers conference.
Stephenson referred to the company’s bid earlier this year for control of Telecom Italia. AT&T withdrew from talks, citing political turmoil in Italy.
“Those opportunities will always be attractive to us,” he said.
The executive was more passive on the prospect of domestic acquisitions.
“I think we have the assets now that we need to compete effectively across the industry,” Stephenson said, when asked about the company’s M&A strategy. “Quite frankly, it’s about operating excellence right now more than industry-transforming transactions.”
Some analysts have speculated that AT&T might acquire a satellite television company, namely alliance partner EchoStar, to compete against cable companies that offer all-in-one services of phone, video and Internet services.
AT&T has teamed up with EchoStar and its peer DirecTV Group Inc. to offer video in addition to phone and Internet services, but Stephenson said that did not mean it had to own them.
“Satellite is important to us. I don’t think you need to own necessarily a satellite business to affect that,” he told a Sanford Bernstein conference later in the day.
In addition to joint offerings with satellite providers, AT&T has also launched a high-speed Internet and video service called U-Verse.
Stephenson said AT&T had more than 30,000 U-Verse users, with the installation rate for the service at about 500 per day. In April, it had reported 20,000 users and an installation rate of about 2,000 a week.
The executive also said AT&T’s top priority would be its wireless business. AT&T’s acquisition of BellSouth Corp. late last year consolidated ownership of the two companies’ Cingular wireless joint venture.
Cingular is now called AT&T, part of the company’s effort to market itself as provider of a full set of communications services, including Internet, video, wireless and regular phones.
Stephenson said that AT&T had not bid for rural wireless provider Alltel Corp. because of conflicting technology standards. Alltel has accepted a takeover offer from private equity firms TPG Capital and the buyout arm of Goldman Sachs.
AT&T shares rose 49 cents, or 1.21 percent, to $40.98 on the New York Stock Exchange.