Bell Atlantic chairman outlines growth plan

April 30, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Correspondent

WILMINGTON, Del. -- Bell Atlantic Chairman Raymond W. Smith had some advice yesterday for investors who might be waiting for the next big deal after the collapse of the $30 billion merger with Telecommunications Inc.: "Don't hold your breath."

Speaking at the Philadelphia-based phone company's annual meeting in Wilmington, Mr. Smith outlined a growth plan that will rely on internal expansion rather than acquisition. The TCI deal, jTC he said, was "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will not come again."

Mr. Smith did not dwell long upon the demise of the TCI merger, preferring to emphasize the company's ambitious plans for a sophisticated "full-service" network and the phenomenal growth of its wireless business. By the fourth quarter of this year, he said, all of Bell Atlantic's telephone lines will be able to carry simultaneous voice, data and video transmissions.

But the chief executive could not leave the topic of TCI entirely alone, at one point taking issue with reports that a personality clash between he and TCI President John Malone contributed to the breakdown.

"Despite the media's attempt to build this into something more, there was no culture clash, no ego war, no hidden agendas, no jilted bridegrooms," he said.

Mr. Smith, a sometime playwright, appeared entirely at home bestriding the stage of Wilmington's ornate and historic Playhouse Theatre. With patience and dry humor, he parried seemingly endless volleys from perennial corporate gadfly Evelyn Y. Davis on topics ranging from corporate legal bills to the daughter's day in the workplace.

"A little bit of tolerance early allows her to get it over with and off she goes," Mr. Smith said after Ms. Davis collected a kiss on the cheek and departed. "It's a matter of strategy."

In a press conference after the otherwise largely uneventful meeting, Mr. Smith elaborated on the company's near-term plans.

He said Bell Atlantic is still waiting for the green light from the Federal Communications Commission to launch its first market trials of video-on-demand and cable television service over the phone lines.

"We're ready to go," Mr. Smith said, referring to Bell Atlantic's plans to offer its proprietary Stargazer television service in parts of Northern Virginia and Montgomery County by early next year.

Mr. Smith said some of the regulatory approvals the company needs to offer video services had been tied up in the FCC for up to 18 months. He added that FCC Chairman Reed Hundt had assured him that those approvals will be put on the fast track.

Mr. Smith said he expects that Bell Atlantic will be able to split the cable television market with the incumbent cable company in any market it enters within four years of offering the service. He said the company's studies show that 15 percent to 20 percent of cable TV subscribers are so disgruntled that they would jump ship to Bell Atlantic as soon as it entered the market.

Mr. Smith was particularly bullish on the prospects for Bell

Atlantic's wireless telephone businesses, noting that revenues from Bell Atlantic Mobile's cellular phone service grew 42.3 percent in 1993 and was on a pace to exceed that this year.

"We think wireless will be as commonplace in 10 years as wired is today," he said.

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