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AT&T CEO calls for ‘light touch’ regulations

U.S. operator questions need for regulation in wireless, Internet spaces.

AT&T Inc. Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said a lighter regulatory touch is required to spur job growth and further innovation in the wireless and Internet industries.

“What’s broken with the Internet and wireless that needs fixing by regulation?” he asked, according to a copy of the prepared speech he’s making at the Executives’ Club of Chicago on Thursday.

AT&T and its telecommunications peers are facing the prospect of increased regulation as the debate over “Net Neutrality,” or the concept of open access to the Internet, rages in Washington, D.C. On the other side of the argument are companies such as Google Inc., which are pushing for equality in access to the same kinds of Internet speeds, both on the wireless and wired side. The telcos argue that they should be able to charge more for faster service to justify the expense that goes into building a costly network.

A history of light regulations has driven the development of the Internet and wireless industries in the U.S., Stephenson said.

“As a country, we need to make sure we keep that lead, and even add to it, which is why we have to get the policies right,” he said.

But increased regulation could hurt the rate of capital investment and slow job growth and innovation, he warned.

Stephenson also called for a lower corporate tax rate, which he said would spur capital investments both from domestic sources and overseas. Out of the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the U.S. has the second highest tax rate. AT&T’s corporate tax rate is 39%, compared with the average OECD rate of 26.3%, he said.

He cited a U.S. Treasury Department number that claimed that a country with a 1 percentage point lower tax rate than its rival nations would attract 3% more capital.

Lastly, he said improving education is a major priority and called the high school drop-out rate a “national tragedy.” He touted AT&T’s own programs to help keep students in school.

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