Chicago - FCC Chairman Michael Powell didn't bend over backwards to make the cable industry feel good about itself on Tuesday morning, but the former gymnast did somersault his way on to the stage, follwing it with a Hans Christian Anderson shtick.
Following a troupe of acrobats, Powell managed to roll his stocky frame-dressed in a pinstripe suit-head over heels before getting up to tell the cable industry that it needs to stay on good behavior if it wants to maintain the positive regulatory environment the industry currently faces.
Powell illustrated his point with a fairy-tale theme, calling the cable industry a toad that has been turned into a prince by a "digital kiss."
"Once upon a time, cable was known as a toad of communications policy - yeah, it was a nice little business but it was hardly charmed," Powell said. But now: "Coaxial cable has been spun into gold thread," Powell said.
"This industry has all the tools it needs to succeed and may I suggest that this is the most positive regulatory regime the cable industry has seen in decades. But it's largely in the hands of the industry to maintain favorable conditions."
Powell listed several areas in which the cable industry needs to watch itself, starting with digital television. Broadcasters complain that cable operators is not trying hard enough to create interoperability between digital broadcast signals and digital cable systems.
"This industry should find ways to be a productive partner in this transition, rather than an obstacle," Powell said. Broadcasters also want the government to require cable operators to carry both their analog and digital TV signals during the transition, but no amount of prodding from Powell or any other policy maker would convince cable executives that dual must carry is a good idea.
"As for program access and vertical market power, there is nothing wrong with that. The industry earned it. But don't abuse that power by keeping programming away from consumers for that will but raise the ire of consumers and the government," Powell said.
Echoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), who spoke at Cable 2001 on Monday, Powell encouraged the cable industry to push forward on its plans to offer high-speed Internet access: "The country needs the deployment of broadband to all Americans at reasonable rates."
Finally, Powell told the industry what cable executives have been saying all week here in Chicago: "Consumer value must always remain high with the products and services you deliver."
"It is a challenge worthy of a prince," Powell concluded.
While Powell was complementary of the cable industry, not everyone in the audience was pleased with what he had to say.
"Powell's fairy tale has a nightmare end for consumers," said Jeff Chester of the Center for Media Education.
Chester and other consumer advocates like him are pushing the FCC to implement rules that would require cable operators to allow competitive Internet service providers to use their high-speed networks. Consumer advocates also agree with Disney and Viacom that vertically integrated broadband companies-AOL Time Warner in particular-should be forbidden to carry exclusively their own and their partners interactive TV content. - Paige Albiniak