Though British Telecommunications PLC (BT) was able to make headway in paying down its massive debt, underlying pretax profit for the company fell 71 per cent in the first quarter of fiscal 2001/2002, BT reported Thursday.

BT reported a pretax profit of 186 million pounds, as of June 30, (the last day of the quarter being reported), compared to 637 million pounds for the same quarter last year, BT said in a statement.

BT’s main focus has been to reduce its debt through restructuring and the sale of assets. During the quarter, debt fell by 10.4 billion pounds, bringing it down from 27.9 billion pounds at the end of March to 17.5 billion pounds, the company said.

Even so, the company paid interest on debts of 474 million pounds, compared to 239 million pounds during the same quarter last year.

In the first quarter, BT sold its online and print business directory operation Yell Ltd. for about two billion pounds, and made 4.8 billion pounds from the sale of BT assets in Spain and Japan to competitor Vodafone Group PLC.

The company reported net profit after tax of 4.36 billion, significantly up on the year ago figure of 353 million pounds, largely as a result of the sale of these assets.

Revenue for the first quarter of 2001 came in at 5.45 billion pounds, an increase of 15 per cent over the 4.73 billion pounds reported for the same period last year, BT said.

BT, in London, is at