Dallas -- Cable executives expressed concerns about the
changing political climate in a panel discussion here last Thursday sponsored by the Texas
chapter of the Cable and Telecommunications Association for Marketing.
"The political landscape is going to be a very
sensitive one in the coming years. It behooves all of us ... to do all that we can to hold
rates in line. We've got to be responsible," said William R. Fitzgerald, chief
operating officer at AT&T Broadband & Internet Services (formerly
Cable companies gained freedom from government rate
controls March 31. But government leaders have threatened to reimpose controls in the face
of big rate hikes. America Online Inc. and other Internet-service providers are another
headache, seeking access to broadband networks at favorable rates.
Executives said the resignation of National Cable
Television Association president Decker Anstrom, announced earlier that morning, would add
to the climate of uncertainty. Anstrom is leaving to become president of The Weather
"He's had politics, and now he's moving to
weather. Those seem to me to be the two things that you talk about a lot but can't do
anything about," quipped Paul S. Maxwell, president of Media Business Corp. and
moderator of the panel.
Panelists also lamented digital must-carry. Charter
Communications CEO Jerald Kent said he is trying to convince politicians and regulators
that they would lose if they impose the rules.
"We're very forcefully saying that we're
going to point the finger at you when all of our customers start screaming" about
losing popular networks for new broadcast properties, Kent said.
The faces and company names have changed since last
year's panel, when then-TCI president and chief operating officer Leo J. Hindery Jr.
and then-Marcus Cable chairman Jeffrey Marcus negotiated from the stage about how much TCI
might pay to buy Dallas-based Marcus.
Both properties, of course, have been sold since then.
Billionaire Paul Allen purchased Marcus, then absorbed it into Charter, while AT&T
Corp. took over TCI.
Asked how long the industry consolidation would go on, Kent
responded, "'Till the last man's left standing." He added, "I
really liken it to the first round of 'Monopoly': You land on something and you
typically buy it, then you sort it out later."
J. Merritt Belisle, chairman of Austin, Texas-based Classic
Cable -- the smallest company on the panel (190,000 subscribers) -- said he felt the
consolidation pressure. "We're either going to get big and push toward 1 million
subscribers ... or we'll be gone," Belisle said.