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Citi Media: Randall Stephenson, CEO, AT&T; Economy Hurting Broadband Business

The soft economy is taking its toll on AT&T (NYSE: T). Even since Q3 ended, the company has seen an up tick in non-paid disconnects in both broadband and traditional access (wireline) subscribers. Mobile is still growing strong — people aren’t canceling their cell phones just yet — but the market is obviously spooked. The stock fell sharply after CEO Randall Stephenson delivered the grim news at the Citbinank’s Annual Global Entertainment, Media & Telecommunications Conference. Updated: The transcript of the call is here on WSJ.

Growth: In the short term, as noted, the slowdown is real and Stephenson didn’t attempt to sugarcoat it. In terms of the size of the impact, we’ll have to wait to learn that. But over the long term, the company remains bullish. Stephenson predicted that broadband penetration will eventually match computer penetration and that we’re still a long way from having that happen. The wireline access business continues to decline for obvious reasons, so that’s not a surprise. The economy isn’t helping that though.

Video: IPTV is a core part of the strategy and the company remains focused on making the product better. In areas where the company will have its own video footprint, the triple play will be the core offering. Outside of that area, the triple play will probably be key, though Stephenson seemed to leave open the possibility that aggressive partnerships with satellite operators won’t be so significant.

Competitive strategy: “To take share, you don’t have to do it with price… the first 10 percent comes because you’re an alternative (and) that’s playing itself out.” The next 10 percent requires marketing, but that won’t be complete by the end of this year. Meanwhile, the company will push out more advanced DVR-like features as well as direct wireless integration.

VoIP: Not such a big deal compared to wireless voice.

Spending: Obviously, with the IPTV rollout, spending will remain high in this area. But it’s all cyclical. Wireless spending, on the other hand, is slow for now.