AT&T Inc. is making headway at state and federal levels as it tries to go over the heads of local governments to enter the subscription television business to compete with cable TV, Chairman and Chief Executive Ed Whitacre said on Friday.
We're having to sort of slug our way through all of this, but we're making good progress, he said at the company's annual shareholder meeting.
AT&T, which merged with SBC Communications in November to form the nation's largest telecommunications firm, is trying to get states and the federal government to pass legislation that would supersede the requirement for phone companies to get approval from each local government to provide television programming via their networks.
Cable companies don't want us to compete against them so they're using the city franchise process to sort of slow roll us, Whitacre said.
Texas, the home state of San Antonio-based AT&T, has approved a statewide franchise agreement, he said, as have several other states. There also is a proposal before Congress to create a national agreement.
Whitacre left the meeting quickly without speaking to reporters as he usually does, so it was not known whether he thinks the national legislation will pass or when.
He did say that by the end of 2008, AT&T's Internet protocol television service will pass some 25 million homes and this will give us a bigger video footprint than any company has.
AT&T has said it plans to buy BellSouth Corp. for $62 billion, but Whitacre shed no light on the proposed merger's progress.
One advantage of buying BellSouth is that it has more fiber optics networks than AT&T, which the combined company could use to expand its broadband capabilities, Whitacre said.
He said AT&T plans to make a push for more business in Europe and Southeast Asia, partly in the belief that the prestigious AT&T name will sell well overseas.
We're going to be hard after the international business because AT&T has not used its name, influence and expertise. We think we can do that and do it well, Whitacre said.
He repeated earlier statements by the company that it expects double-digit earnings per share growth over the next three years.
I can't forecast where our stock will be, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you any hole we have in our assets. It's about execution now, Whitacre said.
AT&T's stock closed down 17 cents at $26.21 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.
Several shareholder proposals, including requests to review and vote on executive pay and to separate the chairman and chief executive officer positions, were voted down.
Whitacre's compensation package for 2005 was almost $12 million, including $7 million in bonuses.
The level of compensation for the CEO is high enough to raise the question of greed, one shareholder supporting the pay proposals told the meeting.