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Microsoft said it would invest $5 billion in AT&T, and the No. 1 US telephone company said it would increase its use of Microsoft software for advanced set-top devices, which provide access to phone and Internet service for cable-TV subscribers. Microsoft's $5 billion will buy AT&T securities convertible into 66.7 million shares of stock. The software giant also bought the right to acquire 40 million more shares in three years. If it exercises all options, it will own an estimated 3.4 percent of AT&T.

The company at the center of history's largest corporate merger, Telecom Italia, has entered into a joint venture with two US contractors to develop a $3.6 billion global broadband service provider. Its new partners are Lockheed Martin and TRW. The system, to be called Astrolink, is designed to connect customers to four orbiting satellites via home- or office-mounted dishes by 2003. Last month, Telecom Italia and Germany's Deutsche Telekom announced a merger valued at more than $80 billion.

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