AT&T Chief: Comcast-Time Warner Cable Merger Will Likely Pass

Net neutrality and spectrum auctions were also up for discussion with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson.

An AT&T sign greet customers at an AT&T Wireless store July 9, 2001 in New York City. The cable company Comcast has made a bid to merge with AT&T broadband. The combination of the two corporations would create the largest broadband communications provider in the world, with approximately 22 million subscribers.
National Journal
Laura Ryan
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Laura Ryan
March 6, 2014, 11:54 a.m.

AT&T CEO Ran­dall Steph­en­son be­lieves the Com­cast-Time Warner Cable mer­ger will get past fed­er­al reg­u­lat­ors.

“Our study­ing of this is that it prob­ably gets done,” Steph­en­son said at an in­vestor con­fer­ence Thursday. “It’s prob­ably go­ing to have some hair on the trans­ac­tion in terms of con­di­tions.”

Steph­en­son said AT&T has been pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the “in­dustry-re­de­fin­ing deal” and that the po­ten­tial mer­ger made his tele­com­mu­nic­a­tion com­pany’s rol­lout of its net­work in­fra­struc­ture up­grade, first launched in 2012, more ur­gent. Those re­doubled ef­forts in­clude es­cal­at­ing its push of a high-speed fiber-op­tic net­work; he of­fi­cially an­nounced that Dal­las is next in line after Aus­tin to earn the gig­abit of­fer­ing.

Com­cast and Time Warner Cable an­nounced a $45 bil­lion mer­ger last month that would com­bine the first- and second-largest cable pro­viders if it passes fed­er­al scru­tiny. A com­bined Com­cast-Time Warner would reach 80 per­cent of U.S. house­holds and in­teg­rate cable ser­vice with con­tent pro­duc­tion, ac­cord­ing to Steph­en­son.

The AT&T chair­man and CEO also touched on two oth­er hot top­ics at Mor­gan Stan­ley’s Tech­no­logy, Me­dia, and Tele­com con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco: net neut­ral­ity and spec­trum auc­tions.

He said the Janu­ary fed­er­al court rul­ing over­turn­ing the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tion Com­mis­sion’s rules on net neut­ral­ity — the prin­ciple that In­ter­net pro­viders should not be able be able to charge web­sites for faster speeds — will likely not change how In­ter­net pro­viders do busi­ness be­cause it is in their in­terest to self-reg­u­late.

“If we go in­to a de­tailed Title II type rule-mak­ing, that’s go­ing to be a long, la­bor­i­ous pro­cess and it will be good for nobody in the in­dustry,” Steph­en­son said, re­fer­ring to the FCC’s op­tion to re­clas­si­fy the In­ter­net from an in­form­a­tion ser­vice to a com­mon car­ri­er.

Ac­cord­ing to Steph­en­son, the FCC will have its hands full enough with the broad­cast spec­trum auc­tion, slated for 2015, that aims to real­loc­ate spec­trum li­censes from broad­casters to wire­less pro­viders. This auc­tion will give wire­less pro­viders the op­por­tun­ity to ac­quire ad­di­tion­al band­width to keep up with the data surge brought on by the ex­plo­sion in video stream­ing. 

“This one is no lay-up, in terms of ex­e­cu­tion, for any­body,” he said.

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