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WILLIAMS Communications chief: company poised to be network segment winner

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ The stock of fiber-optic network operator Williams Communications will rebound, despite a market meltdown for technology issues, the company's chairman and chief executive predicted Thursday.

Investors are running scared, but Howard Janzen said they will eventually take a more measured look at emerging telecom companies like his.

``When they do that, I believe we can get some positive movement up because we are clearly distancing ourselves from our competition,'' Janzen said after Williams Communications' first annual shareholder meeting as a stand-alone company.

The Tulsa-based company operates a 33,000-mile nationwide fiber-optic network that transports data, Internet, video and voice for telecommunications carriers, utilities and television networks.

In April, the Williams Communications was spun off completely from Williams, an energy concern. Since then, it's stock has sagged, closing down 37 cents Thursday to $3.

Last summer, the stock peaked at $40.31 when the parent company owned a sizable chunk of shares.

Recently, analyst Robert Gensler said he was bearish on Williams and others in the network segment because of an abundance of capacity.

Janzen stopped short of saying when Williams' stock will begin climbing, but he said bearish conditions should work to the company's good.

Williams' capacity can accommodate telecom companies looking for more network capacity but who are reluctant to spend billions expanding their own during the current climate, Janzen said.

Two years ago, Williams became SBC Communication's network, allowing the local phone and long-distance company to spend $6 billion on its high-speed Internet access offerings instead of sinking the capital into its networks, he said.

Williams has more than doubled the number of customers in a year, Janzen said. The company's balance sheet is strong after taking measures to secure financing through 2003, when executives anticipate positive earnings. Operating cash flow is expected to be positive by the end of the year.

Williams raised $2.4 billion through private debt placement, capital restructuring and the sale of noncore assets.

New customers include KDDI, the largest international telecom company in Japan, and Teleglobe, a large international player in Canada, Janzens said.

Network revenues this year are expected to be between $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion.

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