AT&T's Stephenson: Network Holding Up 'Very Well'

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told CNN that the communications infrastructure is holding up given the new coronavirus-driven reality of "face-to-face" interactions moving to the phone and computer.  

He said there were signs of "stress" and the need to do some "augmentation of networks." But he said the network was performing "quite well"--then upgraded that to "very well"-- and that it was a demonstration of the U.S. investment in communications infrastructure, and not just AT&T but T-Mobile and Verizon. 

He said that investment of billions upon billions of dollars is now paying off in a time of national crisis. 

He was saying this from a home web cam in a split-screen interview with CNN's Brian Stelter (Reliable Sources) in studio. CNN is owned by AT&T. 

Related: COVID-19: The Story of a Lifetime

Asked if the new work-from-home culture will effect long-term changes, Stephenson said AT&T had been thinking about that "a lot." 

He said he thought it was going to cause businesses to reevaluate how they do that business. He said he thought that one takeaway would be that technology can prove to be "a great enabler of communication and allowing people to do work from home, child care and work at the same time. [I] think when we come out of this, this is exactly what we're going to see." 

He said that was one reason AT&T was trying to make sure it shored up its balance sheet and continued to invest in that process because, "when we come out of this, and the United States will come out of this, we should come out maintaining leadership in communications technology," which means continuing to invest in 5G and new tech.  

Asked what he thought of the $2 trillion stimulus package Congress is working on passing early next week and whether that was enough, Stephenson said he didn't know. 

Related: AT&T Waiving Wireless Overage Charges for Voice, Data & Text

Stephenson is a member of a business roundtable that counsels the President. They met (virtually) with the President and they advised him the stimulus needs to be big and bold. He said they know it won't be as precisely targeted as it should be, "but we need to step up and help first the consumer [and] we need to help small business," he told Stelter.  

He said AT&T is also advocating for helping some of the "more stressed" businesses, like airlines, "that are really critical for a functioning society." 

He said, "directionally, the bill is in the right place, but it is hard to say if it is exactly what is needed.  

Stelter asked what it was like to own a news division during a story like this.  

Stephenson said he and other business leaders were looking at it as a time of war, "and everybody needs to step up and do their part." He said the press has a vital part, "to make sure that our people are informed, to make sure that our politicians have a means of communicating, to hold people accountable, people in power, whether it be CEOs like me or politicians, to hold people accountable during these times, and getting information to the public." 

He saluted CNN for what he called its "terrific" work. "[I] take my hat off to CNN. We've talked about the health care professionals, we've talked about the communications [infrastructure] people who are out risking themselves. CNN journalists are doing the same thing. I think of you as first responders, yourselves. So, just thank everyone at CNN for what you are doing." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.