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CenturyTel, Inc. (CTL)

Q3 2007 Earnings Call

November 1, 2007, 11:30 AM ET

Executives

Tony Davis - VP of IR

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and CEO

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - EVP and CFO

Karen A. Puckett - President and COO

Analysts

Jonathan Chaplin - J.P. Morgan

Gaurav Jaitly - UBS

Frank Louthan - Raymond James

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley

David Barden - Banc of America

Michael Rollins - Citigroup

Chris King - Stifel Nicolaus

Presentation

Operator

Good day ladies and gentlemen and welcome to CenturyTel's Third Quarter 2007 Earnings Conference Call. At this time all participants are in a listen-only mode. Later, we will conduct a question-and-answer session and instructions will be given at that time. [Operator Instructions].

I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. Tony Davis Vice President of Investor Relations. Mr. Davis, you may begin

Tony Davis - Vice President of Investor Relations

Thank you Sidey. Good morning everyone and welcome to our call of today to discuss CenturyTel's third quarter 2007 earnings results released this morning. During today's call we will refer to certain non-GAAP financial measures. We've reconciled these measures to GAAP figures in our earnings release which is available on our website at www.centurytel.com.

Your host for today's call is Glen Post, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CenturyTel. Joining Glen on our call today is Stewart Ewing, CenturyTel's Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Also available during the call today is Karen Puckett, CenturyTel's President and Chief Operating Officer.

We will be making certain forward-looking statements today, particularly as they pertain to guidance for fourth quarter and full year 2007, selected information regarding 2007 and 2008 and other outlooks in our business. Please review our Safe Harbor language found in our press release and our SEC filings, which describe factors that could cause our actual results to differ materially from those projected by us in our forward-looking statements.

Our call today will be accessible for telephone replay through November 7, 2007 and accessible for webcast replay through November 21, 2007. For anyone listening to a tape the webcast replay of this call or for anyone review a written transcript of today's call, please note that all information presented is current only as of November 1, 2007, and should be considered valid only as of this date regardless of the date listened to or reviewed.

At this time I will turn the call over to your host today, Glen Post. Glen?

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you Tony. We appreciate you joining us today as we discuss CenturyTel's third quarter 2007 operating results and our guidance for the fourth quarter and full year 2007.

Our diluted earnings per share, excluding non-recurring items was $0.97 for the quarter, or $0.05 ahead of the upper end of our previous guidance, and $0.08 ahead of our first call consensus of $089. Operating revenues excluding non-recurring items for the quarter were $708.3 million, which is higher than the upper end of our previous guidance.

The increase in the third quarter was driven by $49 million of revenues contributed by the Madison River Properties and $42 million of revenue related to the recognition of revenue settlements during the quarter. The revenue increase over anticipated level is primarily driven by higher access revenue, needed higher usage than expected and higher long distance and DSL revenues than anticipated.

We experienced strong data revenue growth during the quarter of more than 47% year-over-year. This increase is driven by the addition of more than 130,000 high-speed Internet subscribers during the last 12 months. The acquisition of Madison River Properties and the data revenues associated with the revenue settlement. Including the Madison River Properties, but excluding the data revenues associated with the revenue settlement, data revenues increased more than 28% about year-over-year.

These revenue increases were more than offset by anticipated revenue decline attributable to access line declines and lower access revenues along with lower revenues associated with changes in terms of our DBS agreement effective January 1st of 2007.

We also generated strong free cash flow of $167.3 million, during the quarter as our management and employees continue to focus on controlling cost in our business, while charges were remains important to our success. We experienced access line losses of approximately 34,400 during the quarter which equates to a normalized loss of 5.4%. Our legacy markets, experienced access line losses of about 32,000 compared to about 29,000 in our last quarter.

Demand for broadband services remains solid as we added more than 29,000 high-speed Internet customers during the third quarter. This represents a 5.8% sequential growth, in broadband customers during the third quarter. Also organic broadband customer growth for the past 12 months was nearly 39%.

We continue to position ourselves with a broadband provider of choice in our marketplace that introduced our peer broadband product, recently targeting the wireless consumers that use wireless as their primary service. We believe broadband is crucial in helping to stabilize line losses as 85% of our ports to cable companies do not have broadband service.

From an overall bundle standpoint, more than 33% of residential customers in our legacy CenturyTel Properties have served they are one of our bundle offerings from a little over 27% a year ago. We also improved our sales in third quarter on our digital satellite product, driven by our focus triple play bundle, positioning promotion strategy. We are working to continue to increase sales in the product in the months ahead. We now serve more than 46,000 satellite TV subscribers, which includes our 8,000 added during the third quarter.

Also we are very focused on customer acquisition and retention within our local markets, we continue to expand that consumer distribution capabilities encouraged with our results today.

Before turning the call over to Stewart, I want to briefly comment on couple of other item. First as you know we completed the acquisition of Madison River on April 30th. The integration of the properties in the CenturyTel's operations is well underway with all systems converted except for provisioning and billing. We expect to complete the final conversion in the second quarter of 2008. We continue to expect approximately $17 million in net synergies along with additional incremental cost savings overtime.

Second, we repurchased nearly 800,000 shares of common stock for approximately $36 million during the quarter under our new $750 million repurchase program authorized by the board in August of this year.

With that I'll turn the call over to Stewart, to provide additional detail on our results for the fourth quarter and to update you on our financial guidance for 2007.

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Thank you Glen. During the next few minutes, I'll cover some of the highlights of our third quarter 2007 operating results and spend a few minutes discussing CenturyTel's capital structure and liquidity. I'll conclude my comments this morning with a discussion of fourth quarter and full year 2007 guidance provided in our earnings release issued earlier today, along with a few items related to 2008. As a reminder all our comments regarding actual results for third quarter 2007 and 2006 exclude those non-recurring items detailed on the financial statements accompanied in the press release.

For third quarter 2007, operating revenues increased 14.4% to $708.3 million from $619.2 million in third quarter 2006. This increase was primarily due to the $49 million revenues contributed by the Madison River properties and the $42 million of revenue settlements recognized during the third quarter. Excluding those two items, operating revenues declined slightly or little less than $2 million year-over-year.

Voice revenues for third quarter 2007 were $229.9 million versus $218.7 million in the third quarter a year ago. This 5.1% increase in voice revenues was primarily driven by voice revenues from the Madison River properties and growth in long distance voice revenues, which more than offset revenue decline associated with lower access lines.

Network access revenues were $248 million versus $219.3 million in third quarter 2006. This increase of nearly $29 million was primarily driven by the revenue settlements recorded during the quarter along with network access revenues contributed by the Madison River properties, which more than offset revenue declines associated with lower intra-state minutes of use and lower inner-state revenue requirements as a result of lower operating expenses and a decline Internet plan investment.

Data revenues increased 47.3% from $91.4 million in third quarter 2006 to $134.6 million in third quarter 2007, primarily driven by the recognition of revenue settlements discussed above, which was a little less then $17 million strong high-speed Internet customer growth during the last 12 months and the data revenues contributed by the Madison River properties that more than offset revenue declines associated with lower dial-up Internet revenues and special access revenues.

Fiber transport and CLEC revenues increased 11.5% to $41.8 million in third quarter 2007 from $37.5 million in the third quarter a year ago. Due to growth in our fiber transport business and revenues from the acquired properties. Other revenues were $54 million, compared to $52.3 million in third quarter 2006, this increase was primarily driven by revenues contributed by the Madison River properties that more than offset lower satellite video revenue due to the change in the terms of our satellite television agreement effective the 1st of 2007.

Operating expenses increased 7.7% from $447.6 million in third quarter 2006 to $481.9 million in the third quarter of this year. This increase in operating expenses was primarily driven by the acquisition of the Madison River properties and growth in high-speed Internet customers, which more than offset lower personnel related cost, lower depreciation expense associated with fully depreciated assets and lower satellite video expenses due to the change in the terms of our DBS agreement effective January 1 of 2007.

For third quarter 2007, we generated an operating cash flow margin of 51.2%, compared to the 48.7% in the third quarter 2006. Operating income for third quarter 2007 was $226.4 million, a 32% improvement over third quarter 2006 operating income of approximately $171.5 million. This increase was primarily due to the revenue settlements recognized during the quarter and the incremental operating income contribution from the Madison River properties.

Net income for the quarter rose nearly 39% to a $108.1 million, compared to $77.9 million in the third quarter of 2006. We added more than 29,000 high-speed Internet customers during the quarter and we ended the third quarter with nearly 530,000 high-speed Internet customers while a little over a 29% penetration of our DSL enabled lines.

Concerning our capital structure as of September 30, CenturyTel's debt-to-equity ratio was 0.9 to 1 and net debt to annualize third quarter 2007 operating cash flow was 2.2 times. If you exclude the $42 million of revenue settlements that we recognized in the quarter, net debt to operating cash flow was about 2.3 times. As of June 30, 2007, these ratios were 1 to 1 and 2.6 times respectively.

During the quarter, CenturyTel announced a call for the redemption of its Series K 4.75% convertible senior debentures. The redemption was completed on August 14 with holders of approximately $150 million of the debentures electing conversion to our equity and approximately $15 million electing redemption. We continue to expect year end 2007, net debt to operating cash flow, to be in the range of 2.2 to 2.4 times. So CenturyTel continues to maintain a solid balance sheet and is in great shape financially. Additionally, we believe our strong cash flows and excellent liquidity position us to take advantage of opportunities and meet challenges that may arise in the future.

Finally, I would like to discuss fourth quarter and full year 2007 guidance provided in our press release this morning. Let me begin my reminding you that our guidance excludes any non-recurring items that may occur in the fourth of this year. We also expect to the Madison River properties, excluding one-time severance and integration cost to be accretive to free cash flow and breakeven to slightly accretive to diluted earnings per share for 2007.

Finally, fourth quarter and full year 2007 guidance were based on basic shares outstanding as of the end of October of 2007, which reflects all shares repurchased pursuant to our $1 billion share repurchase program that was completed in June and our new $750 million repurchase program announced in late August. For fourth quarter 2007, we anticipate revenues in the range of $645 million to $655 million. We expect diluted earnings per share for fourth quarter to be in the range $0.66 to $0.71. This decrease from third quarter is primarily due to the $42 million of revenue settlements related to prior periods, which positively impacted third quarter earnings by approximately $0.23, which of course will not reoccur in the fourth quarter.

For full year 2007, we expect diluted earnings per share to be in the $3 to $3.05 range, a narrowing and an increase over our previous full year 2007 diluted earnings per share guidance of $2.90 to $3. The increase primarily due to third quarter actual results exceeding our expectations. From a capital expenditure standpoint, we continue to expect full year 2007 capital expenditures to be in the $320 million to $325 million including the Madison River properties.

Finally, I would like to briefly discuss a couple of items related to 2008 that will hopefully assist you in updating your models for 2008 since first call estimates currently reflect a 2008 diluted earnings per share range of $2.69 to $3.16. First, our revenue settlements related to prior periods are anticipated to decline and negatively impact 2008 diluted earnings per share about $0.22 to $0.24. This really relates to the items that we booked in the third quarter.

We also expect Universal Service Fund receipts to decline a negatively impact 2008 diluted earnings per share about $0.08 to $0.10 per share. This decline is primarily driven by decreased depreciation expense due to lower capital investment and fully depreciated assets and expected increase in the national average cost per loop to approximately $363 and to phase out of safety net support that we received for five years on properties acquired from Verizon in 2002. We will further discuss, full year 2008 guidance on our fourth quarter earnings call in February of 2008.

That concludes my prepared remarks for today. At this time, the operator will provide further instructions for the question and answer portion of our call.

Question And Answer

Operator

: Thank you sir. [Operator Instructions]. First question comes from Michael McCormack from Bear Stearns.

: Michael McCormack: Bear Stearns: Hey guys, how is it going? Just looking into sort of the impacts in 2008 and I know you are not giving guidance here, but if you are looking at year-over-year impact from access line loss as well as USF and access revenue pressures. Is there anything to be thinking about that 08 will be different than 07 or is it sort of the same kind of impacts we have seen historically?

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Mike, I don't know of any real changes here. We do see that in the markets where we see a combination rolling out in the last six months we are losing lines there, where we... competition has... of the line loss increases there. Where we have had competition... voice competition in markets more than six months, we are seeing those losses decline pretty significantly. So we'll see some initial hits this is Voice over IP continue to roll out in certain markets but once they are in place for six months or so we are turning that around seeing the losses decline. So we will see some more roll out. We are in the 32% to 37% range as far as our Voice over IP competition today and I think we can see that go up may be the 45% range over the next 12, 18 months. So we'll see that continue to hit us some, but I don't see any major catalyst for change here.

: Michael McCormack: Okay, just last thing, have you guys seen any impact at all from the housing weakness?

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Not really, the housing release is not impacted in our markets.

: Michael McCormack: Great, thanks guys.

Operator

Our next question comes from Jonathan Chaplin from J.P. Morgan Securities.

Jonathan Chaplin - J.P. Morgan

Thanks, just two quick questions if I may on the reduction in USF receipts, it sounded like the entire $0.08 to $0.10 introduction you are looking at there is really driven by... you are not factoring the impact of lower access lines it sounds like it's really just driven by the loss of... the increase from the average cost of loop and the loss of the safety net support. I just wanted to make sure that was the case and if it's not the case, how much of that access line loss you are factoring into that? And then it looks like your voice ARPU was up in the quarter fairly decently and I am wondering what the driver might be there? Thanks.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Jonathan, with respect to the reduction in universal service, it is really driven by the NACPL which I guess we expected to increases somewhat next year and the fact that our depreciation expense is lower and our capital investment is lower. So that's really what's triggering that, it really doesn't have anything to do with the loss of access lines. The only place where we receive some USF on access line basis is in Texas. And it's not that significant.

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

John regarding the voice ARPU a couple of things, first of all the average... the usages... the access usage especially is up. Revenue is up. And you combine that with access line losses of course it drives that ARPU up and then you have got the Madison River properties in there fully this quarter. So all that combined has impacted ARPU some.

Jonathan Chaplin - J.P. Morgan

Okay. I think in your comments... I am not sure if I got this right, but it sounded like special access was down it was one of the sources of pressure. It was... did I get that correctly and if so what's driving the decline in special access? Thanks.

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

It is down slightly, Jon we will make that comment, it is down slightly but a couple of million dollars.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Just a couple of million dollars.

Jonathan Chaplin - J.P. Morgan

So --

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Hello, John we didn't catch that.

Jonathan Chaplin - J.P. Morgan

I just would have expected that to be a revenue stream that's growing, it seems to be growing in other markets largely driven by demand from wireless providers, and a little bit of enterprise growth.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I think in our markets we've seen some decline, we've seen some grooming of networks, mostly as what we've seen and possibly some use of Ethernet.

Jonathan Chaplin - J.P. Morgan

Great, thank you very much.

Operator

Now, our next question comes from Gaurav Jaitly from UBS.

Gaurav Jaitly - UBS

Great. Thanks, good morning guys. Just a couple of questions, foreseeing your fourth quarter guidance if I back out the $42 million and one-time revenue settlement this quarter, it looks like you are guiding to about a $10 million to $20 million sequential graph in revenues, it seems to be higher than recent trends, just wondering if you've been conservative or is there something we should be watching out for? And then second, just from a housekeeping perspective Karen if you could just give the quarterly detail on access line losses between residential and business that will be great? Thank you.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes with respect to the revenue you are correct, but really its just a typical decline that we generally see in the fourth quarter because usage is generally down somewhat in the fourth quarter, also our expenses will be down somewhat in the fourth quarter, and that impact to our revenue as well since the rate of return regulated on the interstate jurisdiction. So the combination of expected usage declines and expense reductions in that effect on revenue, as well as the continued access line, declines that we would expect in the fourth quarter.

Gaurav Jaitly - UBS

Okay, thank you.

Operator

Our next question --

Karen A. Puckett - President and Chief Operating Officer

Wait a minute I have got the access line follow up here. This is Karen Puckett. In terms of... I believe it is focused on CenturyTel Legacy which the loss was 32,400, that's a 10.7 increase quarter-over-quarter, at quarter three last year, and really very consistent to what we've been seeing 35% was the residential primary, 13% second line and 12% fixed business losses.

Key issues still as in words on a primary side of the house, that decline year-over-year is about 8.7% however, our primary out have still... are still increasing, the decline is improving that was about 5.6% year-over-year. And as Glen said, you know, we've had, we really are exchanges that have great competition, have doubled the year-over-year, and a majority of all of our losses and acceleration year-over-year, is coming from those newly launched voice exchanges.

The market where we've had competitions for more than six months we are seeing improvement, to encourage by that our port numbers out as a percentage of our total out. This is paying about 7%, those ports include cable... wireless. Those consistencies still in that category too.

Gaurav Jaitly - UBS

Okay, thanks. Karen If I be the just follow up on DSO could you just give us a break out between net adds in the quarter between the Madison River properties and Legacy CenturyTel?

Karen A. Puckett - President and Chief Operating Officer

The net adds for Madison River about 500 and the Legacy was 28.5.

Gaurav Jaitly - UBS

Nice year-over-year growth. Okay, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Frank Louthan from Raymond James.

Frank Louthan - Raymond James

Great. Maybe Karen back to the line trend and to Mike's question on the housing. Have you seen slow downs in housing is that helped any of your trends you see and maybe seen the inbound still down but is that event that's helping your outbound at all? Were there any areas where you may have been impacted by some exclusive agreement to cable companies that the SEC change might help as well?

If you could comment a little bit on the data trend that clearly grew the revenue there a little more then we were expecting but didn't seem to translate to as much incremental EBITDA, are you seeing some more... is this incrementally less profitable data that you are taking on and give us an idea where is that coming from is it more Madison River side or is it new business? Thanks.

Karen A. Puckett - President and Chief Operating Officer

On the access lines, the housing... we're seeing housing starts slow down, but in terms of foreclosure and stuff I can't say that that cycle through on us yet. We think the SEC ruling yesterday is positive from our standpoint, because it allows us now to get into some in the use of the cable start consistently had exclusivity. I think it's about 24% of our household really are empty use to that. That's a upside opportunity for us. And in terms of data revenue, we have been pretty consistent with the same promotion that we have been running for almost 12 months and I don't think from an EBITDA standpoint that's been any less there. I think it was the PTAs that may be.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yes, that was about $17 million of the $42 million one-time adjustment that we had in the third quarter was about this far as the data revenue line.

Frank Louthan - Raymond James

Okay, great. That's helpful, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Simon Flannery from Morgan Stanley.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley

Thank you. Good morning. Quick housekeeping first of all, you noted that you will be including repurchases up to October, can you help us with what you've bought this month or last month? And secondly, Glen any color you can provide on the M&A opportunities out there right now? Thanks.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Simon, we don't disclose the repurchases accepted end of quarter. So we don't want to disclose that number today. Regarding M&A, I think things are pretty quiet right now. With the Fetmore [ph] deal with Verizon and AT&T just getting settled with their margin also and just not a lot, there is always lot of talk but we don't see anything major happening in the near term. There are a lot of responsibilities so we are very interested and would be pursuing acquisitions that's been our strategy as the right prices can drive long-term shareholder value but nothing major on Verizon that we see right now.

Simon Flannery - Morgan Stanley

Okay. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from David Barden from Bank of America.

David Barden - Banc of America

Thanks guys. Sorry. Just a couple of questions, if I could. Number one, I apologize if I missed this earlier, CapEx looked obviously up sequentially, but looks like on track to be maybe down year-over-year and I just wanted to get a sense as to kind of where you guys where looking at fourth quarter CapEx coming in and the picture for the year. Any comments you can give us kind of on the priorities for next year?

And then second I guess at the Analyst Day we talked about November 1 being a potential target for the federal state joint board forward coming in with the incremental recommendations on USF performed etcetera, I wanted to see if you guys had any flavor for where we're in that part and whether anything you think might be coming out of it? Thank you very much.

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Yes on CapEx we expect to hit pretty close to our target, at $325 million, fourth quarter is going to be a big quarter for us, primarily focused on expanding our broadband capabilities, expanding DSL opportunities and taking Fiber a little deeper in number of markets expanding our Fiber network. So we'll see a lot of that come in, in the fourth quarter. Next year the focus is going to be on broadband, it will be on expanding our video capabilities as well as taking high speed data, so lot of our markets so that's really the focus of broadband and we expect about the same level of CapEx next year $325 million range.

David Barden - Banc of America

Is that 141 I mean that's a big number relative to any number you spent in the past, is it really going to be spent or is it more your... it's going to spill into next year?

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We think it's going to spent. We have discussed it recently we expect that one to be closed to 140 million to be spent. Normally the fourth quarter is higher, I mean the $100 million this time $140 million. We expect we'll expand in fourth quarter.

David Barden - Banc of America

Okay.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Concerning the Federal-State Joint Board recommendation of USF we haven't seen anything at this point. We still expect to come out with something fairly soon because there was a deadline that was imposed there. We're positive with respect to the caps that they've included that the SEC has included on the Alltel acquisition or private transaction and the AT&T acquisition recently. But we'll just see to what they come up with.

David Barden - Banc of America

And you guys are, you think its today or have you heard it might be kind of push back or any sense of what's going on?

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

e're really I mean we don't really, we far talk that may be push back a little but we are not sure.

David Barden - Banc of America

Okay. Thanks guys

Operator

Our next question comes from Michael Rollins from Citigroup.

Michael Rollins - Citigroup

Hi, good morning.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning

Michael Rollins - Citigroup

Just wondering if you guys can talk about in the market themselves the local markets what's been the disparity of DSL penetration rates that you see and right that you talked about next 12 months, can you talk about that three or four year review how penetrated you think your DSL can get and if using some of those local markets that might be ahead or behind the curve as examples?

Karen A. Puckett - President and Chief Operating Officer

I am Karen Puckett. I would say that in the last six months there's been a may be a increase in just a promotion dollars going to DSL broadband from the cable competitors but the standards rate have been very consistent. And the same thing on the triple play there has been our focus on the promotional side and what we're saying there is basically 89, 99 type category which is what we in the market too. In terms of the... that was one the.. so that's what's happened five plan. In terms of the DSL penetration I don't think we've really talked by mark with the DSL penetration rate. So I understand that question, and how much for DSL penetration opportunity, we feel like we had great growth in '07, we expect the growth in '08 but its time to be declining that's where we are on the penetration side and the fact that there is a level for people don't have a PC.

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Hi guys, I think the real push going forward going forward is to get more bandwidth out there the demand for bandwidth we believe don't grow exponentially and what we do right now is to broaden our ability to bring really high speed data to larger percent of our customer. So that's really going to be our focused in the next couple of years and I think there'll be revenue opportunities as the demand for broadband grows significantly.

Michael Rollins - Citigroup

Thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from Patrick Heran [ph] from Lehman Brothers.

Unidentified Analyst

Morning guys, thanks for taking my call. Just quick couple of questions on IPTV just wanted to get a quick update on the cross in Colombia, first, and then second, I was wondering in terms of that CapEx spend in the fourth quarter, how much of that is dedicated to portion of IPTV and other markets and with ATV ramping on their business have you guys seen any sort of declines in equipment pricing? And finally can you just discuss the reason last week you launched this broadband TV, initially if I think its available to subscribers by 1.5 I'm just wondering what percent of subscribers can possibly get that if you've seen any kind of feedback on that product? Thanks.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

First on the spend for IPTV its pretty in the $10 million range in the fourth quarter, of that 140 million about 10 million will be on the video product as far as an update on the cross the average penetration after one year is reduced by 15% penetration, we'll be opening up additional footprint in that market so about 77% [ph] of market coverage by year end. We are migrating the impact there and we are using our Columbia head in to the cross now and also we've the product gaps to fill in, we don't have the VR capability up there. We hope to have that an HDTV in 2008, and by 2008.

Again the technology we are using is ADL 2 plus and we are getting about 15 megabits that's out to 6,000 to 7,000 there. In Columbia we are utilizing VDSL technology vendors that AT&T is using. We launched there in October. We are seeing good additions of about 40 or 50 customers a week there. We passed to date about 15,000 homes. Expect to pass about 27,000 by year-end and eventually with 30,000 homes in the Columbia market. We are about 25 megabits out to 5,500 feet in the market we are getting four streams of television ads that's one HDTV and DVR product. A DVR product it is really a very good product we can record four streams at a time. Pricing is competitive with cable TV and we expect to have about 70% to 75% of the market covered by year end.

Again we get an impact in coding and we've seen improvements in the HDTV and switch digital compression technology, we are at 6 to 8 megabits is requiring today and we think 4 megabits range for HDTV in a 2008 timeframe so we are seeing a lot of improvements there. It is going to help us our ability to push the high-speed probably down the line.

Unidentified Analyst

In terms of equipment pricing are you showing any reduction there with AT&T ramping up?

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

We will see if somebody does take... I mean we are anticipating more in 2008 We are seeing some reduction no question there and all the way across the spec of those products.

Unidentified Analyst

Great. And then just last one, can you just may be just discuss that broadband TV product you just launched?

Karen A. Puckett - President and Chief Operating Officer

Yes, I would say that we are still encouraged. It is too early to talk about subscribers and take rate but we'll keep you updated. We did add incremental functionality, on-demand capability also. So in the next couple of quarters we will give more color on that.

Unidentified Analyst

Great. Thanks a lot guys.

Operator

[Operator Instructions]. And next question comes from Chris King with Stifel Nicolaus.

Chris King - Stifel Nicolaus

Good morning guys. Just a couple of quick questions for you. One is wanted to follow up real quickly on the previous M&A question, obviously, Fairpoint has had at least some minor issues with getting the Verizon acquisition closed. Just was wondering without getting too specific what's your thoughts were on that whether that changes the way that you would look at future M&A opportunities given the struggles the base in we would running into with... pick up those back lines.

Second on Karen, I was just wondering if you could provide a quick update on whether there has been any movement at all on the phantom traffic issue. And thirdly just wanted to try one more question, on your share repurchase program, Sprint Nextel mentioned this morning that they are slowing down their or certainly being more conservative on their share repurchase program, given the economic uncertainty that's out there, I was wondering whether you think about that when you decide the specific timing of your share repurchase program? Thanks.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

On the Fairpoint issue is really do not effect how we look at acquisitions. M&A spectrum of opportunities there. I think these issues are pretty specific to this transaction and we don't expect it will impact us significantly in the future.

Karen A. Puckett - President and Chief Operating Officer

On the traffic, we haven't seen movement from Martin, he certainly talks about it, but we are still encouraged we have picked up the sessions with all of our peers and Verizon and AT&T. So we're encouraged about that. We do believe that we are in there advocating this and hopefully sooner than later we will some movement on it.

Unidentified Company Representative

And Chris on the share repurchase, no, we are not alternating our plans on the share purchase at all. We have a matrix set up with the 10B51 plan with a broker and are basically purchasing shares everyday or not going to plans are now and not to change what we are doing.

Chris King - Stifel Nicolaus

Thank you.

Operator

And our final question for today comes from Nicole Black [ph] from Wachovia Securities.

Unidentified Analyst

Hey guys. You had given guidance earlier this year for access line losses of kind of a negative 4.5% to 6% rate excluding Madison River, we are certainly tracking in that range. I was just wondering, with your focus on broadband and therefore probably bundling, does that range is about the same for 08 or better?

R. Stewart Ewing, Jr. - Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

We think that range is still pretty much in line for 08, Nicole. We actually upped it to 5% to 6% in the third quarter 10-Q and we haven't given guidance on 08 at this point but at this point Glen earlier talked about the increase that we expect to see, continued increase next year with more competition we will just see how fast that comes along and what that does to access line losses but nothing significantly different at this point.

Unidentified Analyst

All right, thank you.

Operator

This concludes our question and answer session for today. I would now like to turn the conference back over to Mr. Glen Post for any closing remarks.

Glen F. Post, III - Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you. In closing CenturyTel achieved solid financial results for the third quarter and for the first nine months of the year. We remain committed to delivering high value product and services to our customers, but the real focus on improving customer retention and expanding our market share. We also remain committed to unitizing our strong cash flow to drive shareholder value over the long-term. We appreciate your participation in our call today and we look forward to speaking with you in the weeks and months ahead.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for participating in today's conference. This concludes our program for today. You may all disconnect and have a nice day. Thank you.

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Source: CenturyTel, Inc. Q3 2007 Earnings Call Transcript
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