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Powell: Comcast/NBCU Merger Net Positive for Industry

National Cable & Telecommunications Association President and former FCC Chairman Michael Powell told a C-SPAN interviewer that he thought the Comcast/NBCU meld would be a net positive for the industry, providing some 'real glue' for an industry already melding increasingly disparate interests.

That came in an interview for C-PAN's Communicators series.

Powell said he was not sure how having Comcast and NBC under the same NCTA tent was going to shake out. "We'll react to how they begin to propagate their interest," he said. Those propagating that interest now include Powell's NCTA predecessor Kyle McSlarrow and former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, who are now in charge of managing the NBCU message in Washington.

"It changes the dynamic inside the association, he said, but, "on net, for the better. You have the country's largest cable operator, also a significant programmer. It provides us no real alternative. We are an association that is now bound together, as we should have been anyway. But I think Comcast helps make that real glue."

Asked about the industry "ambiguity and anxiety" he had reference  in his keynote Cable Show speech this week, Powell elaborated that the reference was about disruptive change, both on the business and public policy fronts. "If you sit still, you get killed," he said. "So, you have to work your way through at the discomforting level of not being entirely sure what the next turn is."

Asked whether he thought the pace of reclaiming broadcaster spectrum had been slow, Powell said that part of it was that there had been a "long, torturous HDTV transition." and part of it was the complexity of the transition. He said he had met with "nervous" Korean legislators looking at their own transition. I wish it had taken less time, he said.

He pointed out that the HDTV transition had been about TV, analog to digital, and at the outset could not have conceptualized smart phones and other uses. "There was no notion that there was this 'other thing' in the equation," he said.

Asked about his answer in a Broadcasting & Cable/Multichannel News interview that network neutrality would be "substantially less threatening," Powell said that there had not been a lot of evidence of violations, and that it was based on speculation. "I think when you are in the early periods of something new, a lot of time your anxieties and your fears run away with you a little, meaning it's easy to believe the worst will happen, and in my experience rarely does the worst actually happen."

Powell said that most operators he knows have no interest or incentive to doing the sorts of things that network neutrality advocates accuse them of being poised to do. "We are sort of content that we reached a good place on this," he said, "but with no rules companies would not be doing what critics had anxieties about.

Powell pointed out that the network capitalization of companies open platforms had gone through the roof, and that the days of AOL's walled Garden and Microsoft Network Service were in the rearview mirror. "At some point the economics prove that you are operating at your peril to try and tell your customers they don't get to go where they want to go on the Internet."

Powell said the Cable Show, which wrapped up Thursday (July 16) in Chicago, felt like "running for president" with something scheduled for him "every three minutes." Still, he said, he was "having a ball."