While others in the telecom business have been more subtle about the sudden, dramatic laissez faire turn by the FCC and the rest of the federal government brought on by Donald Trump’s shocking ascendency to the White House, Charter Communications Chairman and CEO Tom Rutlege was a bit more direct.
“That’s cool,” he told investors Tuesday at an annual UBS media and telecom get-together.
“I was surprised at the how captured I was in the psychology of the regulatory environment,” Rutledge said. “And you start to think: It’s gone.”
Just over six months ago, NCTA chief Michael Powell addressed his org’s last trade show with a call to arms, declaring that the cable industry was “under relentless government assault” by an FCC regulatory agenda, fueled at its base by Google’s alleged cozy relationship with the Obama White House.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s attempt to regulate pay-TV set-tops, which has now seemingly been abandoned? “That was Google again just trying to get content for free, and not having that happen is a good thing,” Rutledge said, ticking off the range of FCC initiatives that are now quite probably off the table.
Rutledge said certain decisions, such as an agreement to eschew usage-based pricing for seven years under the Time Warner Cable/Bright House Networks merger agreement, were made with the idea that the Obama-era regulatory climate would continue for some time.
“Under that environment, I thought it was fine, but here we are,” Rutledge said.
With the president-elect seemingly focused on tweets, and the Republican Congress zeroed in on unraveling healthcare legislation, Rutledge was asked if he would consider more M&A, now that there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much regulatory scrutiny.
“If you had asked me in June about M&A, I’d say I’d never go to the FCC again,” he said. By October, I was OK—it was kind of like having a baby.”
But the current regulatory climate, he said, “makes yield think differently about what’s possible.”
So will Google chief Eric Schmidt have to move out of the West Wing?, Rutledge was also asked. “Maybe he’ll move to Trump International,” Rutledge responded.