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Comcast, AT&T, Verizon Agree: Reform The FCC

LAS VEGAS -- Carmel Group chairman and CEO Jimmy Schaeffler saved his best for last as moderator of a 2008 International CES panel on Monday that included representatives from the biggest cable and telephone companies.

“[What’s] the one thing … at the FCC that you would like to change?” Schaeffler asked, looking in the direction of Joe Waz, Comcast’s vice president of external affairs and public policy counsel Joe Waz.

“You're asking a cable guy?” Waz said, jumping right in. “I’d like to hit the delete button on the last 12 months.”

Waz was referring to cable’s rocky 2007 with Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin, who slapped cable with set-top box technology mandates, cut cable leased access rates by 75%, and voided exclusive cable contracts with apartment building owners.

But Schaffler’s question was not designed to reprise Martin’s cable-bashing record. Instead, his intent was to explore whether the FCC needed a stem-to-stern overhaul.

“I’d like to see some process improvements,” Waz added. “I think the FCC has lost its way in its ability to get good, solid factual decisions done on a timely basis and with the openness that you need for an entity that's responsible for hundreds of billions of dollars in our economy.”

The cable industry isn’t alone in wanting the FCC’s pulse to quicken.

“The FCC is structured about broadcast, cable and telephone. That isn’t the world we are live in, and it isn’t the world we are going to. The FCC has to be overhauled for the Internet world,” said Tom Tauke, Verizon’s executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communication.

Under Martin, the FCC had been decidedly friendly toward AT&T, a tilt that hasn’t gone unnoticed by cable leaders. Yet, James Cicconi, AT&T senior executive vice president of external and regulatory affairs, agreed that the FCC’s role had to change to reflect current trends.

“I would like to see Congress take a fresh look at the entire mission of the FCC,” Cicconi said. “Rather than approach prescriptive regulation of intra-industry relations, I think it ought to be restructured around consumer protection. I think there is a role there. I think we ought to be thinking about the FCC’s role vis-a-vis consumers, not vis-a-vis refereeing between industry players.”