Randall Stephenson, CEO of WarnerMedia parent AT&T Sunday tipped his hat to the division’s CNN, said AT&T data usage has surged and it’s not charging for overages or cutting off service as the company and the rest of the country face down the global coronavirus pandemic – largely from home.
Given, it’s his owned network, but his defense was of the press in general. And the solidarity came as President Trump repeatedly attacks the news media, has often accused CNN of being “fake news” and last week savaged an NBC News reporter at a daily press briefing.
Speaking on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Stephenson said he and other business leaders he talks to “are looking at this as a kind of war. This is like World War 2. And everybody needs to step up and do their part and I see the press as vital at at time like this, a time of war, to make sure that our people are informed. CEOs like me, politicians, getting information to the public. I take my hat off to CNN. I think what they’re doing is terrific work and the journalists … I think of you as first responders yourselves.”
He said the telecom and media giant has 90,000 employees working from home and thousands more on leave – for which it’s paying them for up to 160 hours and possibly more depending on the situation.” To help cash-strapped consumers and small businesses, AT&T is waiving data caps, overage fees, late fees and ” won’t cut off your service,”’
Stephenson said mobile traffic and wifi usage is way up (respectively 40% and 100%) as so many work from home, adults, and kids with schools closed. “When U.S. businesses sent everyone home it changes traffic patterns” but “the infrastructure is holding up quite well.” He said he thinks society will emerge from the pandemic with new awareness of how technology can keep things functioning and people connected.
In response to a question, he said “it’s hard to say” if the circa $2 trillion aid package to the country being worked out by Congress and the White House will be enough. “I don’t think we are going to know. … We need to be big and bold. It may not be as precision targeted and we need to help the consumer and small business … and more stressed areas like the airlines. So we think directionally its in the right place. .. It’s hard to say if it’s enough. But it’s big and bold.”
Stephenson noted that AT&T has tens of thousands of front line workers who stay out and on the ground during emergencies “making sure things function, especially for our first-responder communities. He said a network initiative – a public-private partnership between AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) to make sure that first responders all over the country are connected is being tested for the first time during this crisis and proved successful.