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AT&T's sale menu is à la carte

AT&T Chairman Michael Armstrong acknowledged that he has talked to other companies about possibly selling his entire operation, not just the cable systems.

Speaking at Goldman Sachs' annual Communicopia conference in New York, Armstrong said AT&T would "seriously consider" any offer for the company if it's pro-competitive and benefits shareholders.

He emphasized that AT&T has not sought a merger but Comcast's $58 billion bid for the cable unit drew proposals for the rest of AT&T's operation. "We thought the right course of action was to understand those inquiries and combinations."

Armstrong's willingness to sell could ease Comcast's attempts to buy the cable operations, because AT&T would have a plan for its troubled telephone units. Industry executives said Armstrong is courting BellSouth most actively.

AT&T has tried to structure a cable deal. After taunting Comcast with plans to team up with AT&T, Walt Disney Co. President Bob Iger said last week that "an investment in pipe is highly unlikely. We don't need to buy into pipe to grow our businesses."

Comcast signed a confidentiality agreement to allow it to review AT&T Broadband's books. Asked how long negotiations might take, Armstrong replied, "Shorter than the Hughes-News Corp. process, I assure you." That started 18 months ago.