AT&T CEO: Can't 'prejudge' role of free data programs in Time Warner review

AT&T CEO: Can't 'prejudge' role of free data programs in Time Warner review
© Getty Images

AT&T’s chief executive said Monday that he couldn't "prejudge" whether the issue of so-called zero-rating, or providing customers with free data when they view certain content, would hold up the company’s acquisition of Time Warner.

Randall Stephenson said that he “can’t prejudge any of this” when asked whether the use of zero-rating could be a problem in getting the deal approved by regulators.

ADVERTISEMENT

“I really don’t know — just going to have to get into the process, put the data out with regulators, and begin that effort, and the sausage will come out the way the sausage comes out,” he said on the company’s third-quarter earnings call.

Zero-rating programs have become controversial in recent years. They allow a carrier to provide free data usage to customers when they’re using a certain application or viewing specific content.

The most prominent of these programs is T-Mobile’s Binge On, which allows customers to stream video from major services without it counting against their monthly allotment of data. But other companies, including AT&T, have tested offerings where companies can “sponsor” data usage.

Some have speculated that zero-rating could become an issue as regulators consider whether to approve AT&T’s purchase of content giant Time Warner.

Officials in Washington, however, have yet to articulate a definitive position on the practice. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been probing the issue for almost a year.

The deal will be reviewed by the Justice Department. AT&T has said it is still figuring out whether it will purchase any FCC license from Time Warner; if it does, the agency would get a chance to weigh in on the transaction.