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Voice Bigger Than Video, Says Roberts

Armed with a new study that claims that "robust" facilities-based voice service competition could save consumers $100 billion on their phone bills, Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts told a Washington crowd of cable and telco execs that "promoting voice competition deserves as much--or more--of Washington's attention than video competition.

Facilities-based means companies with networks rather than resellers of capacity (phone card suppliers, for example).

While video competition and the attendant issue of network neutrality have dominated discussion of communications reform this congressional session, Roberts argues that the consumer benefits from facilities-based voice competition "dwarfs the potential benefits of more video competition."

Of course the new video competition is easing a big new entrant-telcos-into cable's space, while the voice issue is about cable getting a cleaner shot at telcos' voice customers, so Roberts' priority is understandable.

He argued that all the advertising on the communications reform bill bombarding the D.C. market over the last two years leaves the impression that "the phone business was competitive and the video marketplace is not."

The opposite, he said, is true. While there are satellite and overbuilder competitors that get nearly a third--more than 25 million video customers--he said that cable, with its seven million residential voice customers--Comcast has a million of those--is the only big facilities-based competitor.

He said the key to cable's growth in the phone business was an "unequivocal right" to interconnection with phone company networks at reasonable rates and without delay or degradation and without regard to whether the service is circuit-switched or IP-based.