NEW YORK -- AT&T likes its iPhone monopoly in the U.S. and is now in talks with Apple to extend their exclusivity deal through 2011.
The telecom giant wants to continue to plumb its wireless service, which has been bolstered by being the only American carrier to handle Apple's iPhone devices. The current agreement would expire in 2010, opening up the iPhone market for other U.S. cell phone companies.
According to The Wall Street Journal AT&T added 4.3 million iPhone subscribers in the second half of 2008, and 40 percent were new users.
"We have 77 million wireless customers and 30 million consumer phone lines," AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told The Journal. "Which customer base would you rather work from?"
Apple has sold an impressive 17 million iPhones worldwide since its release in June 2007, including 14 million in just the U.S. last year as the product boomed and zoomed. The devices are available in 80 countries from carriers that include 02 in the United
Kingdom, Softbank in Japan, Orange in France and T-Mobile in Germany, all with special Apple deals, too.
Apple would not comment on the talks for extension, other than saying "We have a great relationship with AT&T." If the company does decline the extension, AT&T said it will still aggressively pursue the wireless market.
AT&T has been scaling back its landline business as more consumers dump home phones in favor of being wireless-only. To that effect, the telecom has cut many jobs and is currently in union negotiations, attempting to chip away at the health benefits of 90,000 landline workers, which may be a valid budget-tightening move, but has been called a public relations disaster at a time when the health-care of many Americans is on a severe downward spiral along with the economy.