In a stark departure from the cable industry's public position, Mediacom Communications Corp. CEO Rocco Commisso decried proposed "net-neutrality" rules Monday by saying that they keep cable operators from deciding how to "rent" their networks to Web-content providers.
"The government is coming and telling us how we can rent our infrastructure," Commisso told around 200 cable executives at the annual meeting of the American Cable Association, a lobbying group for small cable operators, in Washington, D.C.
The comments are very close to the controversial position of AT&T Inc. chairman Ed Whitacre, who has alarmed Web companies and consumer advocates by openly declaring that he wants to charge the likes of Google Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. for access to AT&T's customers.
Asked during a Q&A period if he was agreeing with Whitacre, Commisso replied that "there are certain things that we're in alignment with the phone industry on."
Cable operators have largely tried to frame the net neutrality debate as a question of technical management of their delicate networks.
The increasing popularity of such bandwidth hogs as music, voice, and movies puts a big burden on broadband networks and operators need flexibility manage big loads to ensure smooth service for everyone.
Cable operators and telcos currently charge consumers extra for higher capacity service. But Commisso added another reason, one that Web companies and consumer advocates fear: the ability to make financial arrangements with content providers, including charging for access to Web surfers through cable's high-speed data networks.
Citing networks that sell episodes of hit TV shows online, Rocco says "they're making money through our pipe" but then "turn around and `say don't let Rocco charge anybody for this usage.'"
He also criticized Google which is lobbying for net neutrality rules. Noting that the company has a greater stock market valuation than the entire cable industry. "They need special favors in Washington, so make sure they can use our pipe and they make their money and we can't make any?"
Interviewed afterward, Commisso says that arrangements with content providers could come in the form of advertising availabilites for cable operators. "We should have the flexitlbity at some point in time -- not today -- to have different busines models that ensure our return on investment."