Charter’s Rutledge downplays Trump-era regulatory climate

With the new presidential administration marked by uncertainty and scandal, Rutledge—like his Comcast counterpart, Brian Roberts, several weeks earlier—seems to be measuring his expressed enthusiasm on the admittedly enticing prospects of reduced federal regulations and corporate tax breaks. (Getty)(Charter Communications)

Charter Communications Chairman and CEO Tom Rutledge downplayed the growth prospects potentially associated with the hard right turn toward deregulation currently occurring in Washington, D.C.

“Sure, we had a lot of headwinds in the previous administration from a regulatory point of view, but it didn’t really affect us,” Rutledge said during Charter’s fourth-quarter earnings call. “And I think that there is a good probability all that could be reversed, which would be a good thing for us. We were prepared to live in that world, so it’s better to live in a world where you have more visibility into your investments and how they might be regulated in the future.”

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While conceding that less regulation is better for Charter’s bottom line, Rutledge’s comments on the matter seemed softer than those he made during Charter’s third-quarter call, when shortly after the election, he called the regulatory shift “cool.”

Certainly, with the new presidential administration marked by uncertainty and scandal, Rutledge—like his Comcast counterpart, Brian Roberts, several weeks earlier—seems to be measuring his expressed enthusiasm on the admittedly enticing prospects of reduced federal regulations and corporate tax breaks.  

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Rutledge’s comments juxtapose in a rather interesting way those of AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who enthusiastically described his meeting with President Donald Trump in AT&T’s Q4 call last month.

“I got to tell you, I was impressed,” Stephenson said. “It was obvious I was meeting with a CEO. He has a very clear agenda—tax reform and regulatory reform. I can tell you that he’s focused on these things. And I left with a degree of optimism that this could be pulled off this year.”

For his part, Rutledge did manage to get in a few digs on the previous FCC regime.

“The set-top box issue was really about Google and other companies getting access to video content without paying for it,” he said. “And that appears to not be an issue going forward. And so the general proposition for a better FCC is already manifested itself in the appointment of Ajit Pai as the Chairman of the FCC and the processes that he's reforming and reviewing, all look to be better for us than the previous regime.”

Meanwhile, asked about the prospect of paid prioritization returning as a business model, Rutledge noted that the concept of “net neutrality” is separate from the FCC’s Title II regulation, which new agency Chairman Ajit Pai suggested might be removed.

“And we had net neutrality without Title II previously,” he noted. 

“I'm not sure net neutrality goes away,” Rutledge added. “We don't have a business model to use paid per prioritization.”

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