swung to a first-quarter profit, citing cost controls. But soft demand for telephone services took a toll on revenue.

The company earned $1.2 billion, or 66 cents a share, compared with a loss $154 million, or 8 cents a share, in the previous-year quarter. The company said results benefited from the adoption of a change in accounting for retirement of assets.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were $941 million, or 51 cents a share, compared with earnings of $1.04 billion, or 55 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts were expecting 45 cents a share.

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Revenue was $5.52 billion, compared with $5.53 billion in the year-ago period. Total sales don't include the company's 40% share of

Cingular Wireless

. Including Cingular, revenue was $6.9 billion, down 4% from last year. Cingular's first-quarter revenue rose to $3.59 billion in the quarter from $3.54 billion a year ago.

The company said it reduced total debt by $753 million during the quarter, and has cut total debt by $2.4 billion, or 12.7%, since March 31, 2002.

BellSouth's stock was up 6.9% at $23.20 in early trading Wednesday.