Reports: SBC in talks to buy rival AT&T

/ Source: The Associated Press

SBC Communications Inc. is in talks to acquire America’s once-dominant telephone brand, AT&T Corp., for at least $15 billion, according to published reports.

Any deal would likely mark the demise of AT&T, the 120-year-old telephone icon — Ma Bell — that handled the nation’s telephone calls before it was broken apart 21 years ago. The talks were reported Thursday by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the discussions.

An AT&T acquisition would give San Antonio-based SBC, the nation’s No. 2 regional phone company, a company that still has a sizable list of government and corporate clients for long-distance and other telecommunications services, despite several years of financial struggles and customer losses.

AT&T still has nearly 30 million long-distance customers. SBC has about 50 million local-phone customers, mostly in the Midwest and South.

Citing executives, The Times said a deal would likely cost SBC more than $16 billion.

The talks are considered “fluid” and “very, very sensitive,” the Times reported, citing executives. The Journal said executives have met sporadically over the past few weeks and that no final decisions have been made.

AT&T declined to comment on the reports, citing a policy against discussing “rumor or speculation about mergers, acquisitions, divestitures or other business combinations,” said AT&T spokesman Jim Byrnes.

A message was left for SBC but it was not immediately returned. The papers said SBC had declined to comment.

In July, Bedminster, N.J.-based AT&T said it would no longer market new residential long-distance business. But the company is still aggressively seeking to sign up homes for Internet-based phone service.

Last year, AT&T slashed 12,500 jobs as it retreated from the consumer telephone business.