Despite an increasingly tough economy which has wrought havoc in the stock markets, telecom giant Verizon ( VZ) has promised to keep growing the dividend it pays to shareholders. Verizon's financial guru Doreen Toben reiterated the company's dividend strategy during a presentation at the Raymond James Institutional Investors' conference Monday in Orlando, Fla. "Our goal remains to return value to shareowners through an annual dividend increase model," she said, explaining that Verizon has grown its dividend by more than 13.5% in the last two years. The former Verizon CFO is serving as the firm's executive vice president prior to her retirement in mid-2009, and also helping John Killian, the firm's new finance chief, transition into her previous role. Toben said the company's "incredible" free cash flow will continue to underpin its dividend payments. In 2007 and 2008, for example, the firm had operating cash flow of $25.7 billion and $26.6 billion, respectively, but kept its capital expenditure at $17.5 billion and $17.2 billion. "When you look at the cash flows, they absolutely support well beyond five years being able to do that," added Toben. Verizon, which is helping drive the smartphone explosion, is seen as an attractive stock, thanks largely to its dividend and long-term growth potential. The firm's recent fourth-quarter profit, for example, grew 15%, driven by its wireless and broadband businesses. Toben nonetheless acknowledged the challenges posed by the global economic slowdown. "While our long-term prospects remain solid, like others in the space we have started to see some revenue softness that we believe is cyclical and related to the economy," she said. "As we move through the year, you can expect us to continue to be disciplined and balance new sales and profitability."