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How Do You Say Competition?
When Cox Communications president Pat Esser referred to the “Regional Bell Operating Companies” during Cable Show 2012’s final general cession, several of us winced and wondered about his use of the hoary term.
The RBOCs or Baby Bells, created three decades ago during the old AT&T divestiture, are long gone; some were reconstituted during the revistiture of the legacy telephone companies. The last legacy of the old “Bell” system was the “B” in SBC (né Southwestern Bell Communications) before it rebranded as the new at&t to share wireline U.S. mainland with Verizon.
So why did savvy Esser use the archaic RBOC term when he described the major “network providers: MSOs, Regional Bell Operating Companies, core infrastructure in our country”?
An hour later, I crossed paths with him in the exhibit hall, and he explained.
Using the Bell name reminds everyone - especially policy makers - that the legacy telephone companies fall under a strictly regulated common carrier regimen, Esser said. He wants to spotlight that distinction so that regulators distinguish AT&T, Verizon and what’s left of their brethren from cable operators. When I suggested that most analysts use “telco” as the umbrella term for such companies, he responded that “Cox is a telco,” citing its widespread voice services.
Esser told me that he intends to keep deploying the RBOC references.
Sure, it’s just word play, but it is a compelling tactic in the converging world of overlapping services. The session on which Esser spoke included countless references to the evolving ecosystem and competitive interplay between companies. Esser’s evocative allusion to the slow-moving Bell bureaucracies came shortly before he pitched a future of “fatter pipes, faster speeds, choices of tiers” calling them “the foundation for innovation [that] sits inside sits inside this industry” - another bit of hype for cable’s vitality compared to stodgy “telephone companies.”
It’s now just what you say: it’s how you say it.
Gary Arlen is president of Arlen Communications LLC, Bethesda, MD, a long-time analyst and a frequent contributor to Multichannel News.