AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Provides Update on CNN’s Reliable Sources

Here on Reliable Sources, looking at the media angles here. Every corner of the media industry has been touched by this pandemic and telecom companies and tech companies like AT&T are working in a critical way to keep the internet up and running, literally keeping people connected when we are all so isolated. We are also seeing streaming services of course being used quite a bit. We’re going to talk about all of that in the next few minutes here. Standing by for me is Netflix’s Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos, one of the most powerful media executives in the world. He’s going to talk with me in a moment about what Netflix is doing, but first let me bring in chairman and CEO of AT&T, Randall Stephenson. AT&T is the owner of this network, CNN. Randall, thank you for being here. I’m curious about what has changed for you and for AT&T in the past couple of weeks. How have you had to change AT&T’s priorities? Hi Brian. Thanks for having me on. It’s kind of unusual to face a national crisis and ask our employees to go home, but that’s effectively what we’ve done. We’ve told our employees to the extent that you can do your work at home, go home and we have 90,000 people who are now doing their job from home. We have a number of people, about 20,000, who are affected by this virus through any number of reasons and so they can’t do their jobs at home, so they’re on leave and we’re paying folks 160 hours to stay at home, take care of family, take care of themselves, but then we have a 100,000 employees, Brian, who just when hurricanes happen, earthquakes happen, they run into those situations and it’s no different in this one. So our technicians are out making sure that the services are up and performing well, particularly, Brian, for our first responder community. You heard a Governor Cuomo, which I thought he did a terrific job talking about the needs of our medical professionals and the heroic work that they’re doing. We are the provider of the first responder network FirstNet and we have built out a nationwide network under the purview of the federal government to ensure that all of these first responders are connected and in a time like this of national crisis, this network is being tested for its first time and it’s actually performing quite well and we’re doing everything we can. All of our resources are being marshaled toward ensuring that our first responders are able to communicate and do their jobs effectively. What about the wireless and the broadband customers that have AT&T all across the United States? Is the internet infrastructure able to keep up with increased demand? Yeah. It’s interesting when the United States business sends everybody home, it changes traffic patterns and, what we’re seeing is our mobile volumes are up 40%. Wi-Fi calling volume dropped 100%. The network is performing quite well to be quite honest with you. It’s doing very well, but it’s an indication that as we have sent people home, they’re now no longer working in their offices. They’re working out of their homes. This infrastructure is allowing the communication to continue, that face to face communication that once existed is now happening over mobile devices. It’s happening over Wi-Fi and the infrastructure is holding up quite well. We’re seeing some signs of stress. We’re having to go out and do some augmentation of networks and so we’re sending our employees out to get that done, but right now the network is performing quite well and this is really an indication that the United States has led the world in investment in communication infrastructure, not just us, T-Mobile, Verizon and this investment, billions upon billions of dollars of investment, we’re seeing it pay off during a time of national crisis like this. Yeah. I never thought my first time interviewing you on Reliable Sources would be with you at home, but everybody’s at home. Everybody’s using these webcams to join and feel a little bit less lonely. I wonder if you’ve thought about how this is going to change our world after this pandemic. Is this going to be the new normal? Are we all going to be working from home? Have you thought about that? We’ve thought about this a lot and in fact I think it’s going to cause every business to evaluate how they do business. Does this give us comfort and confidence that technology can actually prove to be a great enabler of communication and allowing people to do work from home, childcare and work at the same time? I think when we come out of this, this is exactly what we’re going to see and Brian, this is one of the reasons that AT&T we’re doing everything in our power to shore up our balance sheet and make sure we continue investing through this process because when we come out of this, and the United States will come out of this, we should come out with maintaining leadership in communications technology. This is a competitive advantage for our country for a long time and we think we should come out of this crisis continuing to invest in 5G new technologies and leading the world. But there’s so much fear about the state of the economy and the possibility of something that’s as big as another Great Depression. What do you say to AT&T employees and other workers who are worried about losing their jobs? Well, AT&T workers, what we’re telling them is you take care of yourself, you take care of your family, you take care of each other, and if you need to stay home to take care of family, then please do so and we’re offering 160 hours of paid time leave and we’ll work to accommodate requirements to go beyond that. To our customers. Brian, we have said, “Look, we understand how important communication is for getting through a time like this.” And especially small businesses and consumers and small businesses, we have said, “We will wave data caps on your broadband, on your wireless. If you’re a consumer or a small business impacted by this on wireless, even your data overcharges we will not impose those data overage charges on our customers. If you’re late, we will not impose a late payment fee. We will not cut off your service if these are issues that are a result of what we’re experiencing right now.” So I think corporate America, we’re all going to need to step up to help our employees and to help our customers do everything we can to try to endure this. Yeah, just to make it a painful period, a little bit less painful. While I have you, what do you make of the stimulus package that is being prepared on Capitol Hill as we speak. Right now the figure is two trillion dollars. Is that a sufficient figure? Brian, I don’t think we’re going to know. When the business round table, we all met virtually this week and the President joined us and, the general comment of the business round table was we need to be big. We need to be bold. We know everything is not going to be precisely targeted as it should, but we need to step up and help first the consumer. We need to help small business because small business, this is going to be really traumatic and dramatic for small businesses and so do whatever we can to help shore up our small businesses and we’re actually advocating helping some of the more stressed areas of business, the airlines and so forth that are really critical for a functioning society as we come out of this. And so we think directionally it’s in the right place. It’s hard to say whether it’s exactly what needs to be done, but it’s big, it’s bold and we think that’s what’s going to be required to keep the economy at some level of stability particularly if we come out of this. And one more question for you Randall, it’s been a couple of years since AT&T acquired CNN and the rest of what was known as Time Warner. This is the biggest story CNN has had to cover since you’ve been in charge of CNN and the rest of these brands. What’s it like for you to own a news division? How are you approaching owning CNN in this period? You know, Brian, a lot of the business leaders and myself particularly we’re looking at this as a time of war. This is like World War II and everybody needs to step up and do their part in terms of how we help the general population and the general public. And I see the press as vital in a time like this, in a time of war, 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. And I take my hat off to CNN. I think what we’re doing there is terrific work. And the journalists, we’ve talked about the healthcare professionals, we’ve talked about the communications people who are out risking themselves. CNN journalists are doing the same thing. I think of you as first responders yourselves and so I just thank everybody at CNN for what you’re doing, Randall, thank you for coming on and thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you Brian.

15 thoughts on “AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Provides Update on CNN’s Reliable Sources

  1. Okay, but there are unemployed people, including myself. Will you see about making sure to maintain our service?

  2. What about the people that have been let go or "laid off" during this pandemic and may not be able to pay there bill, of no fault of their own.
    Will Randell Stephens help?


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