Gates Praises Cable's 'Open' Platform


Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates, whose company has joined a broadband lobbying campaign against the cable industry in Washington, D.C., came to the National Show here in part to praise cable for providing openness on its broadband platforms.

Gates — who did not mention the lobbying effort directly — spoke about cable's high-speed data platform while seated beside Comcast Corp. president and CEO Brian Roberts and AOL Time Warner Inc. chairman and CEO Richard Parsons at the opening session of last week's National Show.

"I am really pleased at how the cable industry has been providing openness on the cable platform," Gates said. "There is a lot of openness being provided on that platform."

Gates did not say whether it was necessary to continue with the lobbying in order to ensure the platform remains open.

Comcast's Roberts, whose own Washington lobbying team has been working to counter the Microsoft offensive, said he was delighted with Gates's general comments about the potential of cable's platform.

Parsons — whose Time Warner Cable systems are required under federal merger stipulations to provide consumers with three unaffiliated Internet service providers, in addition to AOL Broadband — said he believed that regulation tended to be "backward looking" and wasn't necessary until market abuses occurred.

"We don't know how big this [broadband] thing can be," Parsons said. "Let the market run."

Microsoft, along with Inc., eBay Inc. and The Walt Disney Co., formed a lobbying group called the Coalition of Broadband Users and Innovators (CBUI). Leo Hindery's Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network is also a CBUI member.

The group has called upon the Federal Communications Commission to adopt regulations that would block cable operators and other owners of high-speed data networks from using their access power to discriminate against Web merchants with which they do not have a financial relationship.

Amazon has urged the FCC to impose nondiscrimination rules against cable or require cable to carry multiple ISPs to protect both consumers and Web merchants.

National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Robert Sachs has said CBUI is a solution in search of a problem, because the group was complaining about acts of discrimination that had not occurred.

CBUI has pointed to cable-modem contracts that ban virtual private networks (VPNs) as proof that cable operators want to use their high-speed data networks to retain all VPN revenue for themselves.

In May, Comcast informed the FCC that it had removed VPN restrictions before CBUI raised the issue with the commission.

Gates wasn't the only one to talk about the openness of the cable platform.

In a discussion with Legg Mason analyst Blair Levin, two FCC members — Democrat Jonathan Adelstein and Republican Kevin Martin — said that at this time, there isn't enough evidence of cable-operator discrimination to justify government intervention to protect consumers as they comb the Web for content and commerce.

"I haven't seen much of that in the record," Martin said.

Added Adelstein: "We don't see overwhelming evidence in the record now of a problem."

The FCC is expected to address CBUI's concerns later this year in a rulemaking stemming from the agency's March 2002 decision to classify cable-modem service an interstate information service instead of a cable service.