Washington -- In comments later downplayed by one cable-industry leader,
Comcast Corp. president Brian Roberts used a dinner speech here Wednesday to
urge deregulation of phone companies instead of reregulation of cable
'We would like to suggest that instead of more talk about reversing the
course and having regulatory parity between competitors, what should be talked
about is deregulatory parity,' Roberts said. 'And that way, we remain true to
the bipartisan principles of the [Telecommunications Act of 1996] . to find ways
to deregulate established players like the phone companies or like the satellite
companies and put them more competitive in broadband.'
In remarks to the Economic Club of Washington designed to showcase his
company's advanced digital products, Roberts also said regulators that reviewed
America Online Inc.'s merger with Time Warner Inc. were correct to examine AOL's
dominance of instant messaging.
'I said to a few folks -- and some of them are in the room tonight -- that
really, the problem is instant messaging. If you have kids, you can't not have
AOL. That's their chat line. If you want to have Microsoft Network and plug into
their chat line, they won't allow it. So I think a lot of focus on that was
merited. Whether they took enough action, I don't know,' he said.
Roberts' comments about phone deregulation seemed to clash with the
established position of the National Cable Television Association that it is
improper to amend the 1996 law in order to ease regulatory burdens on phone
companies as proposed, for example, by House Commerce Committee chairman Billy
Tauzin (R-La.) with regard to high-speed Internet access.
But NCTA president Robert Sachs said there was no daylight emerging between
the association and Roberts.
'I think Brian was saying that there is a regulatory maxim that it is
preferable to look to deregulation of industries rather than to impose legacy
regulations that go back decades onto businesses,' Sachs said. 'The
cable-industry position has been, and is today, that we do not support reopening
the '96 act.'
When asked for clarification, Roberts said his purpose was to stress that if
lawmakers and regulators feel the need to change course, they should remove
barriers, rather than saddling companies with new layers of regulation.
'It's a directional way that we think people should be looking,' Roberts
said. 'If they're going to change anything, it should be in that direction, and
not in the direction we have been going.'
Regarding comments on IM, Roberts said his point was that open-access issues
appeared to overshadow the IM debate even though the market circumstances were
'Instant messaging affected 25 million AOL users that have no choice today,'
he added. 'The open-access discussion -- how many Time Warner Cable modem
customers are there: 1 million?'