Baltimore -- In terms of policy, National Cable Television
Association president Robert Sachs is taking up right where his predecessor, Decker
Anstrom, left off. And that's what Sachs promised in July when he took the job.
In a speech here last Tuesday at East Coast Cable '99,
Sachs gave his version of the NCTA's "Three Nos" sermon: no on forced
Internet access, no on digital must-carry and no on any more government regulation of
The speech was Sachs' first major address to a large
cable audience, although he did touch on some of the same points in Atlanta last month in
remarks to local cable regulators who belong to the National Association of
Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.
On forced access, Sachs said cable is losing a propaganda
war to competitors that are trying to use government to impede cable's entry into the
high-speed Internet-access business.
"It is critical for our industry to educate
policymakers that cable-modem services give consumers instant access to any Internet
content or Web site of the customer's choice," Sachs said. "For our
competitors to suggest otherwise is a bum rap, and we must debunk it."
The Federal Communications Commission has refused calls by
America Online Inc., MCI WorldCom Inc. and U S West to require cable operators to allow
cable-modem subscribers to access the Internet-service provider of their choice and to
utilize the cable connection solely for high-speed-data transmission.
According to Sachs, the FCC's policy made perfect
sense because there is no need to regulate markets that are disciplined by competition.
"Telephone, cable, satellite, fixed-wireless and other
companies are competing vigorously in offering broadband services," he said.
"Not only is regulation of cable's broadband Internet service unnecessary and
inappropriate, but, as the FCC has found, government regulation would actually slow
broadband deployment and be harmful to consumers."
The FCC, under the direction of Cable Services Bureau chief
Deborah Lathen, has been monitoring the broadband Internet-access market and preparing a
report for Kennard.
The report, released last week, concluded that the
broadband Internet-access market is competitive, and that the FCC's posture of
"vigilant restraint" with monitoring remains appropriate. The FCC also said it
believes a national policy on cable-access issues -- rather than a city-by-city resolution
-- is the best regulatory approach.
On digital must-carry, Sachs reiterated cable's view
that mandatory carriage of analog and digital TV signals would bump established cable
networks off systems and retard the growth of nascent networks.
Moreover, he said, a digital-carriage mandate would
interrupt free-market talks that so far have produced deals between AT&T Broadband
& Internet Services and NBC and Fox Broadcasting Co., and between Time Warner Cable
and CBS Corp. "The marketplace is clearly working," he added.
The FCC is planning to issue digital must-carry rules
before the end of the year.
National Association of Broadcasters spokesman Dennis
Wharton said TV stations remain committed to digital must-carry, and cable's
opposition, as articulated by Sachs, was nothing new.
"Cable has never accepted must-carry as the law of the
land, so it's not a surprise what Mr. Sachs is saying," Wharton said.
On March 31, the FCC lost its ability to regulate
upper-tier cable rates. The FCC will not regain that power, Sachs said, if operators show
restraint when raising rates in the future.
"We must manage future price increases very carefully.
I cannot emphasize this enough. If we act responsibly, we will not face the specter of
rate regulation again," he added.