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AT&T, BellSouth lay off thousands

Two of the nation's largest communications companies announce significant layoffs as both AT&T and BellSouth move to cut costs and streamline their businesses.

Two of the nation's largest communications companies announced significant layoffs today, as both AT&T and BellSouth moved to cut costs and streamline their businesses.

AT&T will lay off thousands of employees within two months as the long-distance and cable television company attempts to cut $2 billion in expenses from its slower growing business units by December, according to a spokesman.

Ma Bell has not yet determined a final layoff total, most of which will come from its long-distance unit. It plans to wait until some employees are able to find jobs elsewhere within the company before consummating the cuts.

Separately, local phone giant BellSouth plans to cut 2,100 jobs from its domestic support staff.

"Streamlining these organizations will allow us to be more responsive to our customers' needs," BellSouth chief executive Duane Ackerman said in a statement. The company will take a charge against earnings of between $60 million and $80 million during the first quarter as a result.

The layoffs are not new within the communications industry.

Although unemployment rates are at exceptionally low levels, and much of the Internet industry is struggling to hire talented workers, major telecommunications firms have handed out so-called pink slips in an attempt to become leaner, more nimble competitors. Known for their bureaucratic ways, telecommunications companies are looking to cut costs to compete as profits fall and in order to invest in new higher-growth businesses such as wireless and Net access.

Last April, AT&T planned layoffs of more than 2,500 workers, sparking concern within communications labor unions. The company had cut jobs nearly every year since 1985, until a number of acquisitions in the mid- to late-1990s boosted AT&T's headcount, an AT&T spokesman said. Ma Bell currently has 148,000 employees and expects to add about 16,000 with its purchase of MediaOne Group.