Cable’s Top Lobbyist Is Sick And Tired Of All This “Troublesome,” “Distressing” Regulation And Competition

Image courtesy of DCvision2006

Our old friend Michael “Regulation Is Bad” Powell, former FCC chairman and now top pro-cable lobbyist, is at it again.

The NCTA is the giant lobbying and trade group representing all the big names — and many of the small — in cable. Their membership roster includes the Comcasts and Time Warner Cables of the world, but also individual cable networks (HBO, Al Jazeera), massive media companies (Disney, Viacom), and the companies you probably haven’t heard of that make cable operations, well, operate (WideOrbit).

At their head since 2011 is former FCC chairman Michael Powell who, to his credit as a lobbyist, has been very busy launching increasingly laughable arguments to protect the cable industries monopolies and shoddy anti-consumer practices during his tenure.

He’s advocated tirelessly on his employer’s behalf against net neutrality, against higher benchmarks for “broadband”, and for extending and implementing data caps as soon as possible. He also just doesn’t understand why you hate your cable company when Google and Facebook are also big companies that exist.

This week, however, was really his time to shine. The NCTA is holding their big annual industry conference, now called INTX, in Boston this week, and he delivered yesterday’s keynote. So what did he talk about? The evils of regulation, of course, with a dash of “isn’t it great how competitive this marketplace already is right now? No, really!”

Powell’s remarks about competition, of course, do not refer to your ability to choose among multiple cable or broadband providers, because you probably can’t. Rather, he’s referring to video competition — which is, let’s be fair, a rapidly-growing marketplace with more options every day.

“It seems the whole world has discovered what we have known for decades,” Powell said, “and that is that delivering exciting, high quality video content to American consumers is a fantastic business to be in.”

While studiously not actually naming Netflix or Amazon, he continued, “These companies have enormous resources and are exceptionally creative. They are fierce competitors that have cut their teeth on disrupting traditional businesses.”

Which is true inasmuch as it comes to television — but you still need to buy an internet connection, from a company that’s probably an NCTA member, in order to stream yourself some House of Cards.

But when he moved past content, technology, and competition — all fields in which he continued not naming Amazon or Netflix, while referencing them — he got into the true meat of his speech: the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad FCC.

Powell announced that the cable industry finds itself “the target of a relentless regulatory assault,” which from his vantage point is naturally completely unwarranted. And thus began the “woe is us” portion of the festivities.

“The policy blows we are weathering are not modest regulatory corrections,” Powell said (we like to imagine, with maximum tragic dramatic acting). “They have been thundering, tectonic shifts that have crumbled decades of settled law and policy.”


“What has been so distressing,” he continued, distressed, “is that much of this regulatory ordinance has been launched without provocation. We increasingly are saddled with heavy rules without any compelling evidence of harm to consumers or competitors.”

One wonders just how much evidence would have to accumulate before the NCTA would consider it “compelling,” but we digress.

He also had some strong words about the FCC’s proposed rules about set-top boxes, calling it “confiscation:”

“Other times we find our property being confiscated and passed off to new competitors to give them a leg up, despite healthy and robust markets,” said Powell. “This is the case with the current proposal to unbundle valuable content and hand it to companies who do not have to pay for it, respect the intellectual property rights of it or abide by the same regulatory requirements to protect consumers.”

Nor was Powell a fan of the FCC’s proposed ISP privacy regulations.

“What I believe is most troublesome is an emerging government view that the communications market is bifurcated and should be regulated differently,” said Powell, echoing the standard line from providers. “Internet companies are nurtured and allowed to roam free, but network providers are disparagingly labeled ‘gatekeepers’ that should be shackled,” he complained.

The issue, of course, is that the FCC has the ability and mandate legally to handle ISPs — but companies like Facebook, Google, and other so-called “edge providers” fall under the jurisdiction of the FTC. In other words, as far as the law is concerned, that market is actually bifurcated, and it has nothing to do with the FCC’s opinions.

So what does Powell see as the way forward through this morass of obviously completely unfair persecution? The old standbys, of course: innovation, experimentation, investment, and disruption. In other words, business as usual.

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