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Sprint PCS names new president

Charles Levine steps down a week after news that the cell phone provider's subscriber numbers dropped. Len J. Lauer is replacing him.

Sprint PCS President Charles Levine was replaced Monday, a week after news that the cell phone provider had a "modest drop" in subscribers.

Len J. Lauer, president of the company's long-distance division, will take over Levine's position immediately, according to Sprint, the parent company of Sprint PCS. Sprint Chief Operating Officer Ron LeMay will temporarily replace Lauer, who has been working for Sprint since 1998 and became president of Sprint's Global Markets Group, the company's long-distance division, in 2000.

Levine has retired to his ranch in California, the company said. Sprint spokesman Mark Bonavia had no further comment on the reasons for the departure. However, sources said it was hastened by last week's announcement that Sprint PCS is losing cell phone subscribers.

"The two (Levine's departure and the drop in subscriber numbers) are related," a Sprint source said.

Sprint announced last week that the dip in its wireless telephone unit's total number of subscribers was "modest," resulting from a "higher-than-expected" decrease in the number of its Clear Pay program subscribers. Clear Pay targets low-income customers and sets a spending limit on phone calls.

While it helped Sprint PCS gain new customers, Clear Pay was never a favorite with Wall Street analysts. They said the customers didn't spend enough money on phone calls or the extra services, such as wireless Web surfing, to make the subscriber strategy pay off.

Sprint has not said exactly how many customers Sprint PCS lost, but analysts believe the number is between 8,000 and 50,000. In June, Sprint reported that Sprint PCS had about 17.1 million wireless subscribers.

Most analysts had expected Sprint PCS to continue adding customers, not to lose them. J.P. Morgan analyst Thomas Lee once expected Sprint PCS to add 400,000 customers in the third quarter of 2002. Now he expects it to lose 8,000.

Levine, who was named chief operating officer of Sprint PCS in January 2000 and president in February 2001, couldn't be reached for comment.

"Chuck Levine was an important part of the incredible growth and development of our PCS operation," Sprint President Bill Esrey said in a statement.

While Levine was at the helm, the carrier had 15 straight quarters of subscriber growth. He also helped the company launch it's earliest wireless Web offering, called Sprint PCS Wireless Web, a m?lange of rudimentary games and Web surfing tools over a telephone network five times slower than a dial-up connection.

Earlier this year, Sprint PCS launched PCS Vision, its "next generation" phone network that is promised to handle twice as many calls as the previous network. The new network is capable of sending Web pages at speeds of about 60kbps to 80kbps.