AT&T CEO Wants Congress to Create Privacy "Rules of the Road"

Amir Levy/Getty Images
Randall Stephenson

"To handcuff those sectors with 50 different rules of the road across 50 different states and different regulators is a disaster for an uncertain business model," Randall Stephenson said.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on Tuesday made a pitch for Congress to "step up" and create "rules of the road" on consumer privacy that would apply to all companies across the country.

"We think one ranger. There ought to be one regulator for everybody," the exec said at The Atlantic Festival in Washington. Without that, Stephenson said states like California will step into the breach and create their own rules.

Speaking of the media, tech and communications industries, he said, "To handcuff those sectors with 50 different rules of the road across 50 different states and different regulators is a disaster for an uncertain business model."

Stephenson also spoke of a "pendulum" between the rules and policies of Democrats and Republicans as it relates to the Federal Communications Commission.

He is not optimistic that Congress will act, however, at least not until after next month's midterm elections. "Why doesn't it get done?" Stephenson asked. "It doesn't get done because it's just not a priority right now, and I think until it becomes a priority, it's unfortunately going to flounder."

While the government plans to appeal a judge's decision in June to allow AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner, the exec is sanguine and said that he has moved on. "This merger's closed," he said. "We own Time Warner."

Asked about the government's motivation for the lawsuit to stop the deal, Stephenson said, "I will never know."

Last month, he said at an industry conference that his company is "spending zero effort thinking about this appeal."

Stephenson also revealed on Tuesday that President Donald Trump called him to thank him for his support for his tax reform policy, but added that he hasn't spoken with the president since that conversation.

Speaking more broadly about consumer consumption trends, Stephenson told the audience that millennials are not yet getting their news primarily from branded entities, preferring instead to curate from a variety of sources. "As an owner of CNN, I obviously am paying close attention to this," he said.