Willner: Title II Would Stifle Broadband

NEW YORK — Michael Willner, president and CEO of Penthera and GreatLand Connections, opened 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 during The Business of Multiplatform TV event that 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.

The former Insight Communications CEO — about to rejoin the industry via GreatLand, an MSO to be formed with systems that will spin off when the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger eventually closes — 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.”

During the fireside chat-style session, Willner also weighed in on a couple of other subjects du jour.

On OTT: A blogger during his days heading Insight, Willner said he wrote four years ago 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,” he said. “I embrace over-the-top. It makes people appreciate the connectivity to our networks.”

On a la carte: A pure a la carte regime would result in higher prices and less programming, he said, and “ a lot of content aggregators would cease to exist

On technological evolution: The best businesses understand consumer behavior and, most importantly, they change their products and services as those behaviors change. “To be successful, we can’t focus on the status quo, but have to evolve toward the next best thing,” Willner said. “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.”