AT&T CEO Confident Regulatory Problems Will Melt Away

December 6, 2016, 2:44 PM UTC
House Judiciary Cmte Holds Hearing On AT&T T-Mobile Merger
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AT&T’s regulatory problems are melting away as the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump draws near.

The Federal Communications Commission alleged last month that AT&T violated net neutrality rules by allowing its mobile customers to watch its online video services without counting that consumption against monthly data allowances, a practice known as “zero rating.” And Trump had said in October that he would block the company’s planned $109 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

But Trump’s emerging communications and merger policies appear likely to erase both of those problems. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson says he expects a Trump-appointed FCC won’t push the net neutrality issue. And a Trump-led Department of Justice antitrust review of the Time Warner deal should lead to approval, he said.

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Pointing to the three people that Trump has appointed to his transition team overseeing the FCC, Stephenson said the agency should be much more amenable to industry desires. “They all have views about telecommunications that are not secrets,” he said, speaking at a UBS investor conference on Tuesday. “We’re hopeful.”

Net neutrality rules, which were adopted last year to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against any online content or service, are not likely to be a priority of a Trump-picked FCC, Stephenson said. All three transition officials have publicly opposed the rules.

And that should eliminate concerns about the FCC’s November complaint against AT&T over zero rating. “Under a Republican commission, this is an issue that probably doesn’t get a whole lot of attention,” Stephenson said.

On the merger front, Stephenson did not directly address the recent Financial Times story that said AT&T (T) had received positive signals from Trump transition officials about the Time Warner deal. But he did say he expected the deal would be approved, because AT&T and Time Warner (TWX) do not compete against each other.

“As a vertical merger, we think this is a pretty clean deal,” Stephenson said. AT&T would agree to reasonable conditions to assuage any lingering concerns, as typically happens in such deals, he said.

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