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The newly proposed net neutrality rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) amount to regulation of the Internet that would stifle growth and innovation of online services and technology solutions, AT&T Chairman and CEO told CNBC.
Stephenson said in a "Squawk Box " interview that aired Friday that he supports the original idea of net neutrality, which set out to preserve a "free and open Internet ... without any blocking and without any prioritization." But he argued, "We have now, under the president's urging with the FCC, moved from pursuing a free and open Internet to regulating the Internet end to end. "
Last week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced a plan that would put Internet service in the same regulatory camp as the telephone. Using Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the agency would be given broad authority to ban providers from manipulating online content. Wheeler said he believes his approach would not discourage industry investment, because he'd withhold enforcement of sections of the law that don't apply to broadband, and he won't try to regulate industry prices.
AT&T's Stephenson disagrees—saying Wheeler's approach would put the industry in a "big moment of uncertainty and lack of clarity."
If these rules were adopted, he warned there would be litigation, with the industry probably "asking for a stay" to prevent them from going into effect.
"It's hard to put in something like this and then undo it," Stephenson said. "Title II services are taxed differently. Are we going to tax the consumer immediately for these? Are we going to wait for rulings?"
Stephenson said the courts have in the past overturned the FCC, "as recently as 2004 when some of the broadband rules were thrown out by the courts."
Another hot-button technology issue, hacking, is taking center stage at Friday's presidential cybersecurity summit at Stanford University. President Barack Obama is set to sign an executive order there, aimed at encouraging companies to share more information about online threats with the government and each other. Google, Facebook, and Yahoo are not sending their chief executives to the conference, but Apple CEO Tim Cook is scheduled to address the gathering.
Stephenson won't be attending the conference, but he expressed concerned in his interview with CNBC about the threat posed by hackers. "Everything we've seen over the last couple of years from Home Depot to Sony, the issue is real now, " he said. "It's a major problem not just for business but for national security. I think the implications are that significant."
But for public-private sharing to work, Stephenson said, "Congress is going to have to step up to provide liability protection for companies because that's a big issue for companies that are exchanging information with the government."
—Wire services contributed to this report.