INTX 2016: Powell Says FCC Has Launched Unprovoked Regulatory Attack

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell told an INTX 2016 opening session crowd Monday that their industry is under a "relentless regulatory assault" by the FCC of chairman Tom Wheeler.

Citing in particular the FCC's set-top box and broadband CPNI proposals, Powell said the mantra of "competition, competition, competition" are instead the unprovoked hammer blows of "regulation, regulation, regulation."

He said the policy blows the industry is suffering, and would weather successfully he concluded, are more than just modest regulatory corrections, instead they are "thundering, tectonic shifts that have crumbled decades of settled law and policy."

Evoking epic battles between dinosaurs, though without the suggestion they were in any danger of extinction, Powell painted the new online competition as behemoths loose in the land. "There are formidable new creatures roaming our traditional feeding grounds," he said, ones being nurtured by the FCC while cable ISPs get the back of its regulatory hand.

Powell slammed the Wheeler FCC for labeling ISPs as gatekeepers while letting edge providers roam free. He drew applause from the crowd when he said: "It is a mistake to view network providers as an impediment to that growth, rather than a valued ingredient of it."

Powell said the FCC's regulatory attack had been unprovoked, saddling the industry with new regs without evidence of consumer harms.

He said that the FCC's set-top box proposal—to mandate program streams and data be made available to third parties—was confiscating their property and turning it over to competitors.

"Instead of unlocking the box, this proposal has unlocked fierce opposition from all quarters, from distributors, content providers, civil rights groups, labor unions and over 150 members of Congress," he said.

Powell said that, and the proposal to potentially regulate the rates of cable business broadband, even though they are new competitive entrants, were examples of what he saw as the "emerging government view" that the marketplace is "bifurcated," with the edge companies "nurtured" and network providers "shackled."

He called that a jaundiced view that will hurt the country's information age ambitions.

Powell said that rather than set the two against each other, the better course, and one he said his industry is pursuing, is to make partners, not adversaries, of the edge. "We see a marketplace big enough for all competitors," he said.

Wheeler will be in Boston May 18 to provide his view of the regulatory regime.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.