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The Cable Show 2011: Cable Helps Power American Dream, Powell Says

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National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell strode, rather than rolled, in at The Cable Show's opening session in Chicago Tuesday morning.

The former military man did so with the short and to-the-point message that cable needs to lead, government needs to get out of the way, and cable content must follow consumers to new applications and devices.

Following a tape of Powell's forward roll 10 years ago before addressing the same convention in the same venue when he was FCC Chairman, Powell said he would pass on a repeat performance -- he is a former gymnast -- saying he might break a hip.

But he did not break stride in what he suggested was cable's march toward a digital future for which it is well positioned. "We believe we can make media and communications better for our shareholders and our citizens....Cable helps power the American dream," he told the opening general session audience.

The military vet invoked the "lead, follow or get out of the way" mantra of his army days and said cable "has what it takes to lead... No industry can be paralyzed by either the infinite possibility or the unsettling uncertainty of its time. Standing still simply is not an option."

And like cable's history of paving the way for bringing broadcast signals to hard to reach places and expanding program choice -- "shattering the confines of the three-channel world" -- and adding phone service, "our industry is once again opening the door on the next chapter in an exciting story of innovation in network and in ground-breaking content.

"We did not invent the Internet...but we certainly supersized it," he said. "Cable has a way in pushing aside the slow, squawking world of dial-up connections and replaced it with highly advanced networks that provided the anytime, always-on experience we now take for granted."

He suggested that what should not be taken for granted was cable's continual investment in fatter and faster pipes, which was the reason that companies like Google and Amazon and Facebook to "come of age."

And cable is breaking ground yet again with more powerful networks and multiplatform content, he suggested. "Cable is getting smarter, and our networks are getting more powerful.

He cited "ultra-fast" broadband and the consumer appetite for outstanding content "on any device on any time."

Powell suggested that cable has to start moving its content to other platforms. "Cable intends, and indeed must, deliver what the consumer wants," he said, including innovative apps that allow cable content to "securely" reach the hottest devices. "The Internet taught us 'a bit is a bit.' Innovative consumer devices taught us that 'glass is glass,' he said.

As he told B&C/Multichannel News in an interview last week, Powell is looking for government to set an "appropriately high hurdle" for new regs. He urged it to "spend as much time pruning old rules that are no longer necessary as they do planting new seeds."

He said the future is uncertain and challenging enough without the "government overhang" of rules today about a tomorrow that is unclear. "We will always urge a little regulatory humility."