Willner: Title II Will Stunt Broadband Funding #NYCTVWK

New York -- Michael Willner, president and CEO, Penthera and GreatLand Connections Inc., opened up NewBay Media’s NYC Television Week here Wednesday morning by firing away at President Obama’s push toward stricter regulation of the Internet.

Willner, in a conversation with Multichannel News senior finance editor  Mike Farrell, said any movement toward Title II reclassification would be “one of the worst policy decisions” not only for the cable and wireless industries, but for consumers.

He envisions a repeat of what happened 20-plus years ago after the Cable Act was enacted in 1992. At that time, the cable industry was rebuilding its plant, putting in fiber optics to lay the groundwork for the Internet, which no one at that time could fully imagine would become such an integral part of daily existence.

With the Cable Act, Willner said, the investment community “turned off the tap.” In turn, capacity slowed as did the formation of programming networks. “Everything came to a screeching halt,” he said. During this slowdown, Western Europe pushed ahead in fortifying its infrastructure and “we fell behind as a country.”

Willner said that with the “heavy hand of Title II, we’re asking for the same kind of result. The definition of insanity is to do the same thing and expect a different result…We’re teetering toward a 21st Century repeat of 1992 in an even more competitive world.”

During the fireside chat, Willner also weighed in on a couple of other subjects du jour:

*On OTT:  Noting that he blogging during his days heading Insight Communications, Willner said that four years ago he wrote that over-the-top services would become a reality. “If consumers want to view beyond [the bundled] package of services, they’re going to do it legally or illegally. I embrace over-the-top. It makes people appreciate the connectivity to our networks.”

*A la carte: He said a pure a la carte regime would result in higher prices and less programming, “ a lot of content aggregators would cease to exist.”  Saying this is the “golden age of television,” Willner noted a lot of "TV viewing still takes place incidentally, with people thumbing through the channels. Without some form of packaging that model unravels.”

*Technological evolution: Willner said the best businesses understand consumer behavior and most importantly they change their products and services as those behaviors evolve.  “To be successful, we can’t focus on the status quo, but have to evolve toward the next best thing.  When someone invents a new widget and it becomes a serious player, that’s fine. We either leap to the challenge and keep up with the times, or we get ready to perish. “