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CenturyTel seeks to add wireless, video services

CenturyTel, based in Monroe, LA, said it is in talks for partnerships with wireless telephone companies and satellite broadcasters, and remains on the hunt for acquisitions in the rural telephone market.

To expand its product mix beyond telephone and Internet services and to thwart competition, a CenturyTel executive said it wants to resell wireless services and offer video programming to its customers. Adding extra services would help reduce customer turnover and slow its decline of telephone access lines, said Stewart Ewing, CenturyTel's Chief Financial Officer, at a recent Credit Suisse First Boston conference in New York.

CenturyTel is testing the technology and cost to transmit video over traditional telephone networks. In the meantime, it sees satellite programming as a way to compete against cable television companies that are eyeing the local telephone market.

"We would like to have and think we need to have a video offer to compete with cable companies while we wait to see if video services over (traditional phone) networks become cost-effective," Ewing said.

Regarding acquisitions, Ewing said, "We're very skilled acquirers and integrators of wireline properties in rural areas. We've done very well buying underperforming assets and adding long-distance and Internet services.''

While most of the telecommunications industry has been hobbled by weak demand and price wars, CenturyTel and other rural telephone companies have been somewhat sheltered from these problems due to less competition in their smaller markets.

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