Cable considers embracing the future, as Powell embraces the past

“We have been debating rebranding,” was not an opening statement we expected at Cable Congress 2018, considering last year’s event was all about sugar coating cord cutting. Yet Manuel Kohnstamm, President of Cable Europe and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Liberty Global, took an open approach to introducing the show in Dublin, talking about adapting in order to rebuild consumer faith in aging cable brands and legacy technologies, as fiber and mobile networks slide in. He called for more innovation in the cable industry, increased partnerships and for private investors to get on board, instead of complaining about the growing threat from internet giants.

Regulations were of course a key topic, with Kohnstamm seeking an end to the backwards way of thinking in which harsher regulations should be imposed on the FANG firms (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google) of the world, simply for being too powerful, and instead to build on the viewing revolution they have spearheaded – by embracing disruption. Unfortunately, this unexpected acceptance was then entirely contradicted by the President & CEO of the NCTA (National Cable & Telecommunications Association), Michael Powell, who delivered an authoritarian speech calling for stricter regulations on internet companies, while talking favorably about unraveling net neutrality.

Powell, the son of a famous US general, and one time Chairman of the FCC,  slammed data collection methods used by the likes of Google for personalization purposes, citing anti-trust, but other speakers at Cable Congress took opposing views about data collection being paramount to the future success of cable companies – which here at Faultline Online reporter we agree with. His reasoning here was “internet giants take no responsibility for the platforms they create – inciting crimes such as sex trafficking.” Granted, there is a dark side to the web, but blaming the internet pioneers for indirectly creating platforms for such atrocities is a scapegoat attempt if ever we heard one.

At Faultline Online Reporter, we would argue cablecos have directly committed anti-consumer crimes, such as overcharging for internet services and failing to fulfill promises on network infrastructure upgrades, leaving users with neglected copper lines – untouched for over 25 years in severe cases in the US. On that note, Executive Chairman of Cable Europe, Matthias Kurth, noted that Ireland will pour €180 billion into cable over the coming years (an unspecified time frame), and praised the Irish economy for recovering from a catastrophic recession to become a thriving technology territory.

“The net neutrality debate is irrelevant – policy has not even begun to be addressed. Title 2 has been built on the wrong technical and economic assumptions,” said Powell. Just a peek at the faces in the audience showed that a sizable share of the audience disagreed.

Powell claimed the big internet and streaming companies have stifled innovation by acquiring start-ups and stripping them of their core businesses. Ironically, the act of overturning net neutrality and replacing it with some form of voluntary code of terms and conditions will harm budding internet firms for years to come. The truth is that the less regulation the FCC applies – or more accurately, regulation that will eventually be in the hands of the FTC –  the lazier and weaker the likes of AT&T and Verizon will become, amid a period of fleeing fixed line customers.

Powell’s presentation was straight from the mouth of Ajit Pai, tarnishing what was a show all about embracing change. The US and Europe are very different beats, but all eyes are watching the FCC and how it moves back into favor after this.