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This Just In: My Predictions for 2001

Warning: Like the economist who called six out of the last three recessions, I hereby make enough predictions that at least some of them will come true, given enough time to ripen. To wit:

Within three months, the Bush administration will end the antitrust jihad against Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft's shares will skyrocket on the news, inspiring Bill Gates to launch an acquisition bid for AT&T Corp. With help from investor friend Warren Buffett, Gates will bag his prize and install Leo Hindery as chairman and CEO of AT&T.

"To be perfectly frank and really in complete candor," Hindery will begin, signaling that what he's about to say next should be totally disregarded, "I couldn't be a good fiduciary and let an opportunity like this pass me by. This job wasn't right for me yesterday, but it's right for me today."

Hindery's first move, as breathlessly disclosed first by Los Angeles Times
reporter Sallie Hofmeister, will be to change the company's name to Global InterMedia Tele-Communications Crossing Inc. (ticker symbol: GLITCI). Trusted aide David Krone will join Hindery in Basking Ridge, N.J., after he finds someone in Silicon Valley still worth $300 million to pick up the lease on his yellow Lamborghini Diablo roadster.

Within six months, News Corp. and newly spun off Liberty Media Group will announce a deal to acquire DirecTV Inc. for $41 billion in cash and stock. In an unholy alliance with EchoStar Communications Corp., the National Cable Television Association will cadge the Justice Department to require Rupert Murdoch and John Malone to sell their programming to competing multichannel-video programming distributors.

As part of the dirty deal with EchoStar, the NCTA will quietly scuttle its campaign to seek the sunset of the Federal Communications Commission's cable program access rules in 2002.

"We think the 1992 Cable Act is working fine," NCTA president Robert Sachs will say, neither elated nor sad.

Within 12 months, President Bush will nominate Michael K. Powell to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. His nomination will be held up for months by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), after Powell refuses to endorse their bill requiring televised coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court and inferior federal courts.

"We can't have Exxon Mobil sponsoring TV coverage while I'm trying to apply the Chevron doctrine!" Powell will snap. Cable lawyers, who saw that agency-empowering doctrine used to successfully defend rate reregulation in 1992, won't be amused-especially those who count Courtroom Television Network as a client.

Within six months, President Bush will nominate four people to serve on the FCC, one of whom will be the magisterial, omnicompetent Helgi Walker, current chief of staff to Republican commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth. Fuming that he can't come up with three more free-market terriers like heterodox Helgi, Bush will do the next best thing and find his picks by tossing darts at the staff directory of the Ayn Rand Institute.

Within three months, one or more cable operators will slam The Walt Disney Co. with a massive antitrust suit for illegally tying the carriage of its ABC television stations to the carriage of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPN Classic, SoapNet, Disney Channel, Toon Disney, Toon Disney2, Toon Disney News and Toon Disney Classic.

"We want consumers to pick any flower from the Disney garden of heavenly delights," the Mouse House's top Washington lobbyist, Preston Padden, will say in dismissing the suit as meritless.

Enjoying an ill-deserved respite after crushing America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. at the Federal Trade Commission, consumer advocates Jeff Chester, Gene Kimmelman and Andrew Schwartzman will be relaxing poolside with friends and family at a world-renowned entertainment resort in Orlando, Fla., and unavailable for comment.

Within six months, former Excite@Home Corp. chairman George Bell will receive a $2 million advance to write his Silicon Valley memoirs. The heavily moussed Harvard grad will tell the story of how a savvy TV producer and sports magazine publisher shed his East Coast cocoon to become a reluctant New Economy CEO celebrity, whose real ambition in life was to write books and read the poetry of Robert Lowell (1917-1977).

Far too busy fine-tuning his court tennis game in Boston, Bell will hire The Wall Street Journal
reporter Kara Swisher to ghost-write his autobiography under the working title: To HTML Hell and Back.

Within seven months, the United States Telecom Association will persuade President Bush to sign into law a bill repealing the 3-percent telephone excise tax after convincing him that the outdated tax was originally enacted to fund the War of 1812.

"This would never have happened in a Gore administration," USTA president Roy Neel will say in a statement oozing with double meaning.

Within one month, the staff at the National Association of Broadcasters' department of corporate communications will file a landmark complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The OSHA complaint will allege that NAB's policy of issuing a press release each time one of the nation's 1,288 commercial TV stations begins digital transmission needlessly and recklessly exposes NAB employees to repetitive stress syndrome.

Further, the complaint will note that because only 168 stations have gone digital so far, NAB workers will have to endure the torture of preparing an average 3.2 press releases each business day until May 1, 2002, the FCC's deadline for all commercial TV stations to beam digitally.

Dennis Wharton, NAB's senior vice president for corporate communications, will not participate in his staff's complaint owing to a freak golf injury that will prevent him from operating a computer keyboard for 16 months on the advice of his swing doctor.

Within 20 days, FCC chairman William Kennard will be rumored to be resigning his position. Joy Howell and Michelle Russo from the FCC's Office of Media Relations will be tied up in an all-day conference call with staffers from the Gore 2004 presidential campaign and will be unavailable for comment.

Howell press aides Linda Paris, David Fiske, Audrey Spivack, Maureen Peratino, Sharon Hurd, Rosemary Kimball, Michael Balmoris, and Meribeth McCarrick will all be in meetings somewhere and unavailable for comment.

Departing FCC Cable Services Bureau chief Deborah Lathen, Russo's francophone boss, will say only this: " Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose."

Within three months, CableFax Daily
editor and bohemian cultural observer Marc O. Smith will be spotted buying business attire at Brooks Brothers.

"It was inevitable that Smitty would lose the Hunter S. Thompson motif someday," CableFax
columnist Steve Effros will say without a trace of grief. "Now let's see if we can keep him out of Lee Masters' hot tub at the next Western Show."

For the next 12 months, I will not lob any more grenades, unless I hear Reed Hundt and Blair Levin are lobbying the FCC to.