updated 4/22/2004 9:03:34 AM ET 2004-04-22T13:03:34

BellSouth Corp. said growth in revenue from long-distance and high-speed Internet services offset its loss of access lines as it reported a 30 percent jump in first-quarter profit even though total sales declined slightly.

The results, announced Thursday, beat Wall Street expectations by a penny.

The Atlanta-based telecommunications company said it earned $1.60 billion, or 87 cents a share, for the three months ending March 31, compared to earnings of $1.23 billion, or 66 cents a share, a year ago.

Excluding one-time items — charges related to work force reductions and a gain related to an asset sale — BellSouth said it earned $888 million, or 48 cents a share. On that basis, analysts surveyed by Thomson First call were expecting earnings of 47 cents a share.

Revenue in the January-March period was $4.98 billion, slightly lower than the $5.01 billion recorded a year ago.

BellSouth added 636,000 long distance customers during the first quarter, for a total of 4.6 million. The company added 156,000 net DSL customers for a total of 1.6 million at quarter-end.

Total access lines of 22.1 million at March 31 declined 3.6 percent compared to a year earlier.

BellSouth, one of the regional phone companies that emerged from the Bell System breakup, serves 44 million customers and is the dominant local service provider in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana.

It had also served 14 countries, but announced in March that it was selling its assets in 10 Latin America countries to a wireless unit of Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica SA for about $4.2 billion in cash and an additional $1.5 billion in debt.

BellSouth and SBC Communications Inc. of San Antonio are the parents of Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless LLC. In February, Cingular agreed to buy AT&T Wireless Services Inc. of Redmond, Wash., for $41 billion in a deal that would create the nation’s largest mobile phone provider. Under the deal, BellSouth would pay 40 percent of the price.

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