Forum: NCTAs Anstrom Looks at Cable in Year 50

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The following is an excerpt of a speech that National CableTelevision Association president Decker Anstrom delivered May 5 to attendees at theNational Show in Atlanta:

We see, this week here in Atlanta, the new cable-televisionindustry -- reinvented, retooled and reinvigorated. And ready -- truly ready -- to beleaders not only in television, but in telecommunications.

We are leaders because we have committed to provide thebest value in information, entertainment and telecommunications; because we have committedto embrace the principle of competition; and because we have committed to not only dowell, but to do good, in the communities that we serve.

And we are leaders because we are now delivering on ourpromises -- and the evidence is all around us.

• We provide the best programming on television.Consumers tell us this every week, as more and more of them shift from watching broadcaststations to watching cable networks.

• We guarantee customer service. No other industry inAmerica does that.

• We make an extraordinary commitment to education andchildren. I'll put our track record up against anyone's.

• We've invented and now offer newhigh-speed-data and Internet-access services. The telcos should download this: We're50 to 100 times faster than them, and they'll never catch us.

• We're beginning to deliver competitivetelephone service, from Long Island, N.Y., to Orange County, Calif. -- and right here inAtlanta. By the end of the decade, we will be true competitors in local phone service.

And we're investing $11 billion this year alone in newtechnology and programming to make this all happen.

That's a track record that demonstrates leadership;that proves that we have delivered on our promises; and that provides the foundation for astunning future for our industry.

During a time of rapid change, like what we'reexperiencing this year, one can look at the future and see it as dark and filled withuncertainty and threatening change.

Or you can look at the future and see shiny, bright, newopportunities and exciting challenges.

We in cable have been lucky: We've always had leaderswho, even in the toughest of times, saw opportunity and challenge, and not defeat anddespair.

I'm confident that once again, cable will act notbased on the fear of change, but rather based on the opportunity that change alwaysoffers.

That approach, that attitude, will once again be thewinning strategy.

Now some of our broadcaster friends will fight the oldtheological wars of must-carry -- just as they did while cable built an entire portfolioof brand-name new networks that now, like "Pac Men," gobble away thebroadcasters' viewing shares week after week.

And the offshore TV-set manufacturers ... they'll tryto sell an outdated industrial policy to force American consumers to buy 300-pound, $7,000TV sets -- just as they missed completely the revolution of compressed digital technology.That revolution now enables American computer, manufacturing and cable companies to bringthe digital revolution to every home through powerful set-tops hooked to TV sets.

And some policymakers will try once again to imposediscredited, outdated government micromanagement on cable -- just as they have doneperiodically throughout cable's 50-year history. But consumers continue to vote weekafter week for cable, with two out of three American homes now buying television fromtheir local cable company.

In contrast to those broadcasters, those offshore TVmanufacturers and those policymakers ... stands a new cable industry.

• We're invigorated by competition;

• We're wiser because of our failure earlier thisdecade to win the confidence of our customers and policymakers; and

• We're united by our vision of business andsocial leadership.

We celebrate cable's 50th anniversary this week. As wecelebrate, let's be sure to learn from the past. Here are four important lessons:

• First, let's always remember what cable'spioneers understood -- cable is a local business.

The first entrepreneurs who connected cable to mountaintopantennas to bring TV pictures to hotels, TV-appliance stores and, ultimately, homes, wereresponding to local needs, and not to some national master plan.

• Second, let's always remember that ourcustomers care most passionately about what they see and experience -- the programming. Sowhile operators and networks will, and should, negotiate for the best wholesale deals,let's keep those negotiations private. Our customers don't care about oureconomics. What they want is good programming at a fair price.

• Which leads to the third lesson: Let's alwaysremember that what matters is the customer. Whether it's programming, operations ortechnology, we've been most successful when we've acted on that -- whetherinvesting in HBO [Home Box Office], or delivering the On-Time Guarantee, or today,introducing high-speed Internet services.

And with pricing in particular, both at wholesale andretail, let's not push the envelope and put at risk our relationships withpolicymakers and, most important, with our customers.

• The final lesson that I'd draw fromcable's first 50 years is that we distinguish ourselves whenever we recognize oursocial responsibilities.

Some of our most important achievements are the voluntarysteps that we've taken -- because we knew that it was the right thing to do. Thinkabout what cable's done:

• We've literally opened up the legislativeprocess to every American, with cable's jewel: C-SPAN.

• We're bringing commercial-free, educationalprogramming to 78,000 schools, at no charge, through Cable in the Classroom.

• And now, we're delivering high-speed Internetaccess to elementary and secondary schools, again free-of-charge, through Cable'sHigh-Speed Education Connection.

That's a record to be proud of, and a record thatbrings us credit and goodwill.

Let's then make this 50th-birthday pledge:

• We will remain a locally oriented business.

• We will relentlessly promote cable programming andthe value that we deliver.

• We will always -- always -- keep the customer first,especially when it comes to service and price.

• And we will build on our social leadership.

In conclusion, let me say that we do face continuedlegislative and regulatory challenges. I haven't dwelled on them, because if we acton the lessons that we've learned -- and the birthday pledge -- I fervently believethat the politics will take care of itself.

We should be blunt, however, in saying that reregulation ofcable would be a colossal mistake -- nothing less -- and that we will oppose it with allof our energy.

And we will oppose just as vigorously any effort to favorbroadcasters at the expense of cable networks.

We should never go back on our willingness to compete withanyone -- the telephone companies, the direct-broadcast satellite companies or theutilities. And we certainly don't oppose DBS companies having the right to retransmitlocal-broadcast signals, as long as they play by the same rules that we have to play by.

We should be careful about future price increases -- andmake that a top priority.

And we should tell our leadership and investment story withconfidence -- everywhere we can -- because we have a great story to tell.

So, lets make sure that policymakers, the media and othersknow that we are facing competition.

Let's make sure that they know about the investmentswe're making -- and the value that those investments are yielding for our customersin terms of better customer service, more reliable systems, new and better programming andinnovative new technologies and services.

Let's make sure that they understand that if thegovernment reregulates cable, those investments will be put at risk -- and with them, thedevelopment of high-speed Internet services, digital TV and competitive telephone service.

And, above all, let's make sure that our customersknow that we care about them and their communities, because we're part of them.

Let's build, then, on all of your hard work andleadership during cable's first 50 years and continue to deliver on our promises.

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