McSlarrow: Google Network Test Is "Great Experiment"

NCTA president says cable is in best spot to deliver high-speed in real world
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Kyle McSlarrow, president of the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association, suggested Wednesday (Feb. 17) that it might
have been better for Google to put its money into broadband adoption rather
than its just-announced 1 gigabit-per-second network test. However, he called
it a "great experiment" anyway, in part because he thinks cable is in
the best position to deliver high-speeds in the real world for the new apps
that might come out of the test.

That observation, and many more, came in an interview for C-SPAN's
Communicators series, in which McSlarrow also said he thought Congress
needed to take a fresh look at the Telecommunications Act and warned the FCC
against locking itself into any single solution for the laudable goal of
wedding TV and the Internet.

McSlarrow said he thought the Google announcement would not be a competitive
threat since it was obviously a test. "They're not planning on turning
themselves into a network provider," he said. "I think competition
isn't even an issue." Google told B&C last week they had no
plans to become a network provider, but also stopped short of ruling it out.

"They have $21 billion of cash lying around, which is why they can throw
half a billion dollars or whatever it is at this experiment," McSlarrow
said.  "Actually, I would urge them half a billion dollars at low
income households and help with broadband adoption and help move the needle
there."

He also pointed out that "by and large" the PCs and laptops currently
out there couldn't handle that amount of data. "Your Ethernet port, your
hard drive capacity and throughput capacity can't handle a gigabit," he
said, though acknowledging that would eventually change. "So, you can't
even use it today even if that were offered with that kind of device in the
home."

But McSlarrow said he thought the test could actually benefit cable given the
robustness and capacity, at least potential capacity, of the cable pipe.
"Every cable customer has much more than a gigabit of capacity
available," he said. "Now, we're using it for high-speed Internet, a
lot of video, and phone, and other interactive services. But, over time, I
would expect that we have such a robust plant that, as demand calls for it, we
can start switching more and more capacity to the Internet side. We are already
rolling out the fastest national broadband plant in America.
That is not an announcement. That is real-world, today."

NCTA has been arguing for years that it was ready and willing to provide faster
speeds and more services as it migrates customers from the more
bandwidth-hungry analog to digital service, and if the government removed
must-carry mandates that required the industry to devote capacity to services
not of its own choosing.

"From my perspective, if this [Google] experiment allows us to discover
new applications at super-fast capacity, that is actually great news for my
industry, since we are the only ones with a national broadband plant capable of
migrating to provide that kind of capacity."

McSlarrow, asked about the network neutrality conditions Google said it would
apply to its test, said he was not opposed to openness conditions as a
byproduct of the marketplace.  "If there is a world where different
economic models along the lines that they have suggested turn out to be economically
viably, that's great.  I am just leery of asking the federal government to
impose all of those rules at the outset."

But he was also going to wait and see whether Google actually followed through.
"Google in the last couple of episodes where they have either made an
announcement or said they were going to do something when it comes to the
networks either failed to do it in the case of San Francisco and the Earthlink
experiment or they backed away in the case of the 700 mhz auction where they
said they were going to bid and asked for all those regulatory mandates and
then they decided not to play."

He said he had no idea whether they would do the same thing with this
announcement. "It's an announcement. We'll wait and see." One thing
he said he wished Google understood better was that "when they try to
regulate everybody else, they just haven't learned the lesson [that] that
eventually come for them, too. But eventually, that will happen."

McSlarrow says he is very supportive of the convergence of TV and the Internet,
and gets the sense the FCC is, too, particularly as a way to drive broadband
adoption.  The more they can lay out a template for action that can drive
investment in the entire broadband ecosystem, he says, the more likely they are
to achieve the twin goals of deployment and adoption.

The FCC has suggested creating a single set-top gateway to both TV and online
video. McSlarrow says what NCTA is interested in is an environment where a
number of different boxes can access both TV and the Internet. "There is a
lot of innovation that is bubbling," he says.

McSlarrow said the broadband plan could go in "unhappy ways," which
would include mandating a solution to wedding TV and the Internet. "There
may be many solutions," he says.  "But I don't think anybody
knows right now what the platform is."  He said it needs to be a
pretty robust process involving cable and satellite, content producers and
others.

McSlarrow was asked about Comcast's Xfinity online video service and whether it
could "snuff out" competition from other video sites. He said his
friends in the public interest community couldn't take yes for an answer
sometimes, pointing out that for years the complaint was the cable network
programming was not available online. He said that was because that ecosystem
is supported by a dual revenue stream, and that they were still trying to
figure out how to translate that online.

He said there is no one model, but that at the moment, it was perfectly
sensible to have a model where that cable content would be accessible to people
who were already subscribers to that content on cable.

A former top Hill staffer, McSlarrow said he thought it would be hard to move
any major piece of legislation this year. But he also said that there was still
a lot of Congressional interest in telecom. He pointed particularly to the
reform of the Universal Service Fund. "I don't know whether that can
actually pass this year," he said, "but I think a lot of leg work is
being done" on the telecom side.

He said it was a fair observation that the power was shifting toward the FCC.
"Because Congress has given the task to the FCC to produce a national
broadband plan, you've got a new fully constituted FCC with a lot of great
commissioners...that work well together, I think you are going to see a lot of
activity at the FCC."

McSlarrow said he was not sure a three-strikes policy on content piracy was the
way to go. That is the policy of cutting a subscriber off after repeated
illegal online downloads. NCTA represents both ISPs and content providers. He
said that he did not want subscribers being "unwittingly" terminated
who did nothing wrong, but also said it was vital to send the message that
piracy was a crime, not something for kids to joke about.

He said it was time to take a new look at the telecom act and regulations
written for another time, but cautioned against freezing a new shapshot in time
while undercurrents continued that might be going in a different direction. He
said he was a realist enough to know that was not going to happen for a couple
of years, but also said the FCC is going to be reexamining regulations as the
media silos continue to break down. "We are all starting to look like each
other," he said, and while the industries could distinguish between
themselves in laymen's terms, he wasn't sure that was reflected in the
regulations, or at least as well as it could be.

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