A Source of Angst for the Cable Industry

The Internet was little more than a dream of military computer specialists when Amazon.com lobbyist Paul Misener decided to combine his electrical engineering and computer-science training with a career in public policy, but, for the self-described "nerd/techie" who grew up in a Washington suburb, parlaying his love of technology into a career in the local industry was a natural.

Today, Misener, along with officials from Microsoft and Disney, is creating anxiety for the cable industry by campaigning for "anti-discrimination" rules that would bar cable systems from giving preferential treatment to affiliated Internet content. To fight for the rules, the companies formed the Coalition of Broadband Users and Innovators, which also counts eBay Inc. and advocacy group Media Access Project as members.

Individually, Amazon.com has also suggested rules that would bar owners of high-speed networks from restricting consumer access to any Internet content unless the networks are open to three or more unaffiliated Internet service providers (ISPs).

Although the FCC has refused to impose restrictions on cable's broadband services, the agency soon will replace tentative rules issued in early 2001 with a permanent regime. Concern that the FCC will change course is strong enough that the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has maintained a public counterattack on the proposal.

Misener says it's wrong to view anti-discrimination rules as an attack on cable broadband service, which provides a critical high-speed pipe of potential customers for Amazon. "We want cable to succeed. This is our lifeblood."

Instead, he maintains, anti-discrimination rules will foster the growth of online commerce by making sure giant MSOs don't block or slow customer access to online sites they don't own or have business arrangements with.

After graduating from Princeton in 1985, Misener joined the National Telecommunications and Information Administration as an international specialist. At 25, he was the agency's youngest-ever U.S. delegate to the World Administrative Radio Conference, where spectrum-allocation agreements are worked out. The responsibility of negotiating deals on six continents was a heady experience for someone so green, but Misener says youth and inexperience kept him from being overwhelmed.

"I was too stupid to be nervous," he quips.

After four years at NTIA, Misener started law school at George Mason University and also worked as a law clerk at Wiley, Rein & Fielding, one of Washington's biggest telecommunications law firms. The firm hired him as an associate after graduation. Six years later, he joined chip giant Intel to head telecom and computer-technology policy lobbying and was a founder of the Internet Access Coalition, which fought successfully to bar local telephone companies from charging Internet access fees. "The Internet would not have taken off as it did if consumers had been burdened with watching the clock when they went online."

In late 1997, Misener went to work for Harold-Furchtgott-Roth, a House Commerce Committee economist who had just been picked to be an FCC commissioner. For Misener, the chance to broaden his scope by branching into telephone, cable and media issues was a great opportunity. He left after two years, though, when offered a partnership by his former law firm.

Less than a year later, Amazon hired him as vice president of global public polity. The seemingly grandiose title is backed up by Misener's intercontinental responsibilities. "It really is a global company, and we have to be aware of what's going on in other countries."