A financial adviser recently noted that the one bill Americans once prioritized above all others was their rent or mortgage, but today he sees that "important" bill being their cellphone and smartphone charges.

One might debate whether that's hyperbole, but the addiction to communication has kept AT&T ( T) atop the world's most valuable brands. It was No. 7 in BrandZ's rankings, with a brand value of nearly $70 billion.

Although the company's rapid growth in recent years went flat post-recession, it was well positioned to recover quickly with enviable cash reserves and loyal investors kept happy with a high dividend.

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