NCTA's Powell: 'Relentless government assault' has been launched against the cable industry

BOSTON-- The FCC has launched a 'relentless government assault" of regulation against the cable industry that has overturned decades of media case law, said Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable Telecommunications Association. 

Delivering a stirring keynote address today at the NCTA's signature trade show, INTX, juxtaposed a cable industry successfully responding to OTT threats with innovation to what he described as threats posed by new FCC proposals to "unlock" the pay-TV set-top leasing business and regulate rates on cable business services providers. 

"The FCC's mantra is competition, competition, competition," Powell said. "But from where we sit it means one thing: regulation, regulation, regulation."

"The policy blows we are weathering are not moderate corrections, they are thundering tectonic shifts," he said.

Referring to the FCC's attempt to "unlock" the pay-TV set-top industry for third-party companies, Powell called it an attempt to "confiscate" the cable industry property and "pass it to new competitors and give them a leg up.

"Instead of unlocking the box," he added, "this proposal has unlocked fierce opposition from all groups. We can only hope the commission will hear their voices."

Powell framed the FCC's approach to business services rate regulation as ironic. 

"Even when we are the new competitive interest, we seem to be marked for rate regulation," he said. "Internet companies are being nurtured and allowed to run free, while network operators are labeled as gatekeepers who should be shackled."

But net neutrality's effect on MSOs as they pivot into roles as broadband providers is Powell's top gripe, he said. "Most troubling is (regulators') view that the communications market is bifurcated. Internet providers are allowed to roam free, but network providers … must be shackled" by regulations.

"This jaundiced view will prove detrimental to America's interests in the information age," he said.

It wasn't all doom and gloom: Powell delivered his address on INTX's new "open format" stage, set up at the far end of the exhibit hall and openly accessible to attendees, rather than being shut into an auditorium. The format represented the demise of cable's traditional "walled gardens" as operators increase TV Everywhere options and availability and rely more on their status as broadband internet service providers.

Companies like Charter have adapted to the changing market, he said, and the cable industry is beginning to take on an international tone as French MSO Altice crossed the pond to enter the U.S. market.

"At INTX we see a marketplace for all competitors," Powell said, adding that the NCTA is looking for partners, not adversaries, as the industry changes. Further, traditional MVPDs must shake off the dust and look for new ways to deliver the plethora of content and services that consumers are demanding.

"If we are bold & nimble enough we will not only survive, we will thrive."

Related articles:
NCTA and ACA pounce on FCC statement, says its set-top plan exceeds Communications Act authority
White House backs FCC set-top proposal as 'mascot' for larger pro-competition agenda
NCTA chief Powell set to demo current device navigation alternatives

FierceOnlineVideo Editor Samantha Bookman contributed to this report.

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