Comcast’s Burke: VoIP Could Be Huge

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Washington -- Comcast Cable Communications Inc. president Stephen B. Burke, here to accept an industry accolade, said Thursday that cable-provided Internet-phone calling could be as big a hit product as high-speed Internet access.

Burke warned that although it was premature to make bold predictions, he felt that Comcast had the network in place to meet considerable customer demand for a phone service capable of doing new things like routing electronic mails and voice mails to the TV set.

"It has chance to be a big business," Burke said after accepting on Comcast's behalf the 14th annual "Bill Daniels Operator of the Year Award," selected and presented by Multichannel News
.

Comcast is planning voice-over-Internet-protocol market trials next year in three states with an eye toward a broader rollout in 2005.

In a sit-down discussion with Multichannel News
editor in chief Marianne Paskowski, Burke said Comcast Corp. took a hard, albeit brief, look at buying Vivendi Universal Entertainment, but in the end, the MSO decided that the timing wasn't right.

"We were genuinely interested," he said. "I think it made more sense for NBC at the end of the day."

Burke said Comcast would remain on the acquisition prowl, especially for any promising programming deals. "We would like to own more," he added.

Comcast is planning to roll out a digital-sports-programming tier next year, he said, adding that the tier would not include any ESPN networks or regional networks from Fox Sports Net. Two Comcast spokespersons said they didn't have additional details to offer about the new tier.

On a public-policy matter, Burke said he opposed government action that would require cable companies to retail networks a la carte or in tiers by genre, like sports. He complained that such a proposal would threaten the industry's economic fundamentals and harm the ability of networks like C-SPAN to reach vast cable audiences.

"We are against government-mandated tiers," Burke said. "Ultimately, it would be a dangerous model."

C-SPAN will air the event Saturday at 1:10 p.m. EST, 10:10 a.m. PST.

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