US Cellular 1Q profit rises, helped by smartphones

CHICAGO (AP) - The regional cellphone company U.S. Cellular Corp. on Friday posted a 78 percent rise in net income for the first quarter, as it moved subscribers to smartphones with pricier plans while holding its own line on costs.

U.S. Cellular’s net income was $62.5 million, or 73 cents per share, in the January-March period. That compares with $35.2 million, or 41 cents per share, in the same period of 2011.

Revenue rose 3 percent to $1.09 billion from $1.06 billion.

U.S. Cellular, which is based in Chicago, continued to lose subscribers, chiefly among contract-signing customers, who pay more than the ones without contracts. It lost 38,000 subscribers from contract-based plans and 49,000 overall.

However, 34.4 percent of the phones on contract-based plans are now smartphones, which come with higher fees for data. That’s up from 20.2 percent a year ago, and meant that U.S. Cellular boosted the average monthly cellphone bill from $47.65 a year ago to $50.52.

The company ended the quarter with 5.84 million customers, making it the seventh-largest cellphone company in the country.

U.S. Cellular shares fell 78 cents, or 1.9 percent, to $39.73 in afternoon trading. Its shares have fallen 17 percent since closing above $48 in mid-February. They peaked at $51.10 last May.

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