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AT&T CEO says too early to talk about FaceTime pricing

Randall Stephenson tries to squash the rumor at Fortune conference in a talk about the need for more spectrum and other topics, including voice calls on airplanes and Yahoo's new CEO.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson discusses the spectrum crunch at the TIA 2012 show earlier this year. CNET/Marguerite Reardon

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the company is still in talks with Apple concerning the data-gobbling FaceTime service, following a rumor reported earlier today that AT&T has plans to charge for the use of FaceTime over its network.

When asked about it at a Fortune conference today, Stephenson skillfully skirted the issue, saying it's too preliminary for talk about pricing information.

"It's too early. We're working with Apple right now to work out stabilizing -- it's too early to talk about pricing," he said before moving on to another topic.

The head of the nation's second largest network spoke a lot about what takes up data and the need for more spectrum at the conference held in Aspen, Colo.

He said the network has seen a 20,000 percent increase in traffic and the growth will continue at 75 percent per year.

"We see no signs of it slowing down," Stephenson said.

He said what will ease the pain of data bottlenecking and slow speeds will be more spectrum to operate through and for that the government needs a faster process. Buying spectrum is no easy task, as AT&T has found.

He said the U.S. government should make more spectrum available as European countries have.

"We're operating at Internet speed here, the government is going to have to step up," Stephenson said.

He said other options the company is looking into include small cell technology and spectrum-sharing with the government.

Regarding Yahoo's recent appointment of ex-Google executive Marissa Mayer as its news CEO, Stephenson said he's happy that Yahoo has hired an industry veteran, particularly since AT&T is reliant on the tech company for its e-mail services and broadband portal connection.

When asked what advice he would give Mayer, he replied jokingly, "Stay awhile."

Kidding aside, Stephenson said the constant change in Yahoo's CEO position has been a concern for AT&T so he welcomes the stability.

"I'll be honest, it's been very disturbing for us. [Yahoo is] very critical to us...so you have this kind of turmoil in a big part of your system -- it's a bit maddening," he said, adding that he thinks Mayer has a good reputation and Yahoo is still a good brand despite its challenges over the years.

"To me, what's fascinating in Yahoo is it's an unbelievable brand...to the consumer the brand is so very solid and leveraging the brand will be very important, I believe," he said.

When asked about the availability of voice calls on airplanes, Stephenson said it's a matter of when and not if, but it will depend on the companies who provide Internet access on planes. He said when companies refine the model for VoIP, the service can be usable. It may not happen in the next year, but "it seems inevitable."

Correction, July 18 at 9:22 a.m. PT: The original article incorrectly named the conference. The conference was held by Fortune.