Roberts: Cable, Baby Bells Share Concerns

Cable operators and the Baby Bells are warriors in the marketplace, but they share some worries on Capitol Hill.

In a speech last week in Las Vegas, Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts told a phone industry group that cable shares a common concern: excessive regulation.

“All of us who invest in competitive facilities need to stand together against that challenge, and we need to get our public officials to understand why it’s bad policy,” Roberts told the United States Telecom Association, a trade group which includes three Baby Bells and hundreds of small phone firms. Next year, House and Senate leaders plan to revise the Telecommunications Act of 1996 at the urging of Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell and others, who believe the law is outdated because it failed to set rules for the convergence of services using Internet-protocol technology.

Before, phone and video services were restricted to their separate platforms, but Internet-protocol technology allows one company to offer voice, video and data services at the same time.

Roberts, who has urged Congress not to engage in a broad revision of the law, called for a united cable/telco front that endorsed removal of unnecessary regulation; imposition of a strict burden of proof on the application of new regulations; and adoption of a minimalist approach to voice-over-IP service.

Phone companies, especially the Bells, have complained that cable-modem service has flourished because it is largely unregulated. The Bells have been pressing Congress and the FCC for equal treatment for their digital-subscriber-line services, which they must share with rival Internet-access providers.

Moments before Roberts spoke, Verizon Communications Inc. CEO Ivan Seidenberg called “for no economic regulation in the broadband world,” adding that phone companies that enter the video business should not have to obtain franchises like cable companies.

Roberts didn’t specifically address the franchise issue, but he indicated support for the idea of removing regulations that were burdensome to all competitors.

“If a rule or tax doesn’t make sense, or if competition has eliminated its reason for being, we should ask government to get rid of it, and not dump it on everyone else,” he said.

But Roberts added that pursuit of “total symmetry” between cable and phone companies was unrealistic because the two industries evolved in different ways.