BellSouth, GE to Offer Satellite Television

Article excerpt

As regional phone companies rush to bundle communication services into one-stop-shopping packages, BellSouth Corp. is adding satellite television to its offerings.

BellSouth announced a partnership yesterday with a unit of General Electric to offer digital television in the nine states BellSouth serves.

"Florida will be the first state to receive the service, starting with Jacksonville, Daytona and Orlando," said Rande Le Fevre, a BellSouth spokesman.

The deal with GE Capital makes Atlanta-based BellSouth the first regional telephone company to compete with established satellite services such as DISH Network and DirecTV.

"It sets us up for a major video initiative," said Bob Frame, president of BellSouth Entertainment. "It gives us the capability of offering our customers a full suite of communication services."

The deal will enable BellSouth to expand its potential market for entertainment services from a handful of cities to 14 million households within months. The company now offers TV to about 120,000 customers.

Eventually, the partnership could include 50 million households.

"We think it's going to change the way people use TV," said Sue McLaughlin, BellSouth's president of consumer services. "And we think they're going to love it."

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Frame called it "a significant, long-term agreement" between BellSouth and GE Capital, based in Stamford, Conn.

McLaughlin said the satellite television industry anticipates annual growth of 25 percent at least through 2002, "and we certainly intend to get our share of that."

BellSouth officials said the satellite service would be offered in several programming packages, but that prices would not be set until early next year. Frame said the service would be "competitive" with cable service, which ranges from $20 to $50 in most areas.

Like other phone companies, BellSouth has been racing to offer customers one-stop shopping -- packages that include entertainment along with local phone service, Internet access and wireless service. …