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AT&T ends Dish satellite TV partnership

The phone giant is gearing up for negotiations to strike a new satellite TV deal.

Satellite TV provider Dish Network said Tuesday that AT&T will end its agreement to bundle its TV service with AT&T's broadband and phone service at the end of the year.

AT&T and Dish have had a joint marketing deal since July 2003, which allows AT&T to package the Dish TV service with AT&T's phone and Internet packages. But AT&T has decided not to renew the agreement, and as required by the contract between the two companies, AT&T is giving Dish six months notice that the deal will expire December 31, 2008.

The move is likely a way for AT&T to negotiate a better deal with either Dish or its competitor DirecTV. In April, AT&T expanded its partnership with Dish in the old BellSouth territory. (AT&T bought BellSouth in 2006.) And it stopped marketing a similar package with DirecTV.

At the time, it looked as if AT&T had dropped DirecTV for Dish. But AT&T has always maintained that it's discussing partnerships with both companies. And now it looks like the company is free to pit one company against the other to get the best possible price.

AT&T said in a statement that it will continue to discuss options with Dish even though it has terminated the current agreement.

Video is a key part of AT&T's strategy. The company has spent millions of dollars over the past few years to upgrade its network with fiber so that it can deliver TV over its IP network. The new U-Verse service is up and running in parts of AT&T's network. But the company isn't able to deploy U-Verse everywhere, so it has been relying on deals with satellite TV providers to deliver a so-called triple-play bundle that includes TV, phone, and broadband services in a single package.