BT tight-lipped on Concert sale speculation

British Telecommunications PLC (BT) is refusing to confirm renewed reports that it will sell its half of the corporate telecommunications carrier Concert Communications Co. to joint venture partner AT&T Corp.

"We are in discussions with AT&T on ways to improve Concert's performance, and possibly to strengthen the alliance, but we can't comment on ways in which that might be done," BT press officer Mike Bartlett said Friday.

BusinessWeek Online reported in its Thursday edition that AT&T is "on the verge of" assuming full control of the operation, as well as of BT's European local network operator BT Ignite.

"Sources inside and outside the companies say serious negotiations are under way and that an announcement could be made as early as next month," the magazine reported, adding that BT is "under so much pressure from its shareholders" that it probably has no choice but to sell out.

Bartlett would not rule out that a sale to AT&T could be an option. "I'm not going to confirm or deny that," he said.

The poorly performing Concert alliance, which dates to 1998, has been the subject of repeated speculation in recent months. [See "Report: AT&T, BT in talks on merging units," March 27; "Report: AT&T/BT Concert joint venture may collapse," Feb. 20.]BT reported operating profit of just 2 million pounds (US$2.89 million) from Concert in its fiscal third quarter, which ended Dec. 31, adding that the joint venture "is operating in a highly competitive international market."

BT announced a corporate restructuring in November, part of the goal of which is to reduce its net debt, which the company has said would total 30 billion pounds when fiscal year 2000 ended March 31. Financial figures for the year are due to be reported May 17.

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