Bresnan Speaks on Rereg

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Five years ago, Bresnan Communications chieftain Bill Bresnan sold his cable systems to Charter Communications Inc. for a boatload of bucks. Two years ago, he returned, amassing 300,000 subscribers in the Western region of the country.

Bresnan, who’s also involved in the protracted bidding process for the Adelphia Communications Corp. systems, is definitely in the acquiring and not the selling mode.

I caught up with him in his new digs: an office park in Purchase, N.Y., which was once the swank home of an Enron Corp. subsidiary. This pioneer — now the “comeback kid” — is cutting quite the swath.

Actually, Bresnan was the first cable operator I had met some 18 years ago, long before I came here to cover cable. Back then, I was the New York bureau chief of Electronic Media (now Television Week), and didn’t know a thing about the industry, but the magazine’s two cable reporters reported to me.

So I made it my business to meet a pole climber and he was Bresnan. He taught me a lot over these past two decades, and continues to do so with his great institutional memory and his eye always on the future.

In many respects, he was ahead of his peers as one of the first cable operators to tap into the lucrative business community, hooking up the Mayo Clinic for a vast array of advanced services. None of that has changed.

Now, within two years, he has rebuilt the handyman specials — systems he had bought and were in need of an upgrade. And now he’s poised to launch telephony.

That’s a service he views as the next killer application, just like high-speed data access was some five years ago. And, given his deep, deep roots in the business, he has some concerns. With the government poised to review the Telecommunications Act, Bresnan doesn’t like what lies ahead. He’s not concerned about another rate cap, as happened in 1992 — a development that stymied cable’s growth for years.

What he is worried about is the government tinkering and creating an uneven playing field. And with the telcos poised to swoop into video, Bresnan is worried about them in particular.

Already, the telcos have made noises about not paying franchise fees because they are common carriers. DirecTV Inc. and Dish Network don’t pay those fees, but cable does.

Nor does he want to see cable reclassified as a common carrier, which would mean that the industry would have to open up its pipe to competitors, to carry their services for a pittance.

Bresnan is particularly concerned that the telcos may redline some of their new markets, offering service to only the most desirable areas.

Of all of the jump balls out there right now in this sea of change, Bresnan clearly worries the most about subsidizing a competitor. And so should you. Check him out (at www.multichannel.com/multivision) and see for yourself.

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