Martin says no anti-cable agenda


LAS VEGAS -- FCC chairman Kevin Martin has no anti-cable agenda despite what the media coverage might imply, he told attendees packed inside a ballroom for the first day of the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. confab.

"It's a pleasure to be here, but it's also a surprise. For the past few months I wondered whether I would be invited to attend, much less speak," Martin joked Monday during his keynote address at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. He read aloud such media headlines as "Chairman vs. Cable" and a statement from the NCTA that said the FCC's "policies are simplistic and misguided."

"My regulatory philosophy is a simple one: I want to level the regulatory playing field in the hopes of fostering a competitive marketplace, whether in broadband, voice or video, and try to apply it on a neutral basis," Martin said.

He said that the cable industry might not always agree with him, but he tries to be as fair as possible.

"Sometimes our policies favor the cable industry ... and sometimes they don't, such as when it's an issue of someone else's entry into the video market," he said. "(But) I have to side with those trying to break into the market -- it's not an attack on cable but rather promoting new entries into the video market, much like I did with your entry into the phone market."

Martin also addressed the issue of offering cable networks on an a la carte basis.

"Consumers should be able to purchase the products and services that they want without being forced to purchase what they don't want," he said. "Sometimes that benefits the cable industry and sometimes it doesn't ... (but) consumer choice should be paramount."

Following Martin's remarks, a panel of cable operator executives discussed the future of the industry during a session titled "Cable 2.0: Growing Cable's Next Business Opportunities." Time Warner Cable president and CEO Glenn Britt pointed out that the cable industry has been successful with its entry into the phone market because it took a different ap�proach than the phone companies.

"We really thought about our product differently," he said. "Instead of pricing long distance by the minute and sending customers bills that are five pages long that no one can understand, we have unlimited pricing for local and long distance. It's a very attractive proposition for consumers."

Britt and Comcast Corp. COO Stephen Burke both made the point that the cable industry has to pace itself when introducing new products and services to consumers, in part so their own employees don't get overwhelmed.

In addition, Cablevision Systems Corp. COO Tom Rutledge pointed out that it tends to take a while for new technologies to be adopted, including those in the advertising world.

"There's inertia," he said. "People have business plans, and they don't just change them because a new technology gives them the opportunity to reach consumers in a new way. ... None of these things happen overnight."

Meanwhile, the panel also agreed that VOD, while not in its infancy, is still in its early stages in terms of potential. The panel also included Aryeh Bourkoff, vice chairman of technology, media and telecommunications investment banking at UBS Investment Research, and was moderated by Char Bales, CEO and marketing president for the Cable & Telecommunications Assn.

"This (VOD) is going to continue to be a huge competitive weapon for us," Burke said. "But I still think we're only in the third or fourth inning in terms of what it can be. Eventually on your television set, you're going to get everything on television when you want it." For example, he said, a feature film day-and-date with its release in theaters that consumers could pay to watch at home.

Before the session, NCTA's Convention Committee co-chairmen -- George Bodenheimer, co-chairman of Walt Disney Media Networks and president of ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports, and Pat Esser, president of Cox Communications Inc. -- welcomed the attendees, addressing the changes taking place in the cable industry and pointing out that the conference is in Las Vegas for the first time since 1987.

"What happens in Vegas shouldn't stay in Vegas because consumers are winning," Bodenheimer said, alluding to this year's theme, "Competition Works, Consumers Win."

Earlier in the day, Cable Show attendees woke up to the news that a bomb had exploded around 4 a.m. in the parking garage outside the Luxor hotel and casino, where some registrants are staying (the Luxor is located adjacent to the Mandalay Bay on the Strip). The explosion killed a hotel employee who had noticed a small device resting on top of his car and tried to remove it.

Police believe that the victim was the target of the bomb and that it was not a terrorist act. Another person was injured, and there was little damage around the vehicle, they said. The Luxor was not evacuated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.