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NCTA prexy Anstrom blasts cable rollbacks

National Cable Television Assn. prexy Decker Anstrom launched a blistering critique of new FCC cable TV rate rollback rules on Wednesday, claiming the regs must be reversed if cablers are to compete in the multimedia world of tomorrow.

Anstrom’s first public speech since taking the NCTA reins Jan. 6 was delivered before a Washington Metropolitan Cable ClubNCTA names No. 2 exec, page 26

luncheon, and the comments came just two weeks after the FCC ordered a 7% industry rate rollback on top of the 10% rate cut ordered last April.

Anstrom said the FCC action “will simply have to be revisited at some point” and reversed. The North Dakota native said he “learned from Lutherans in the upper Midwest to believe in redemption, even for errant federal regulators, and I have faith they will do so.”

Calling the FCC rules “destructive, arbitrary and counterproductive,” Anstrom said they must be overturned if cable operators are to emerge as a competitive “information superhighway” threat to the Baby Bell telephone companies.

Anstrom said it is “likely” the NCTA will file a petition with the FCC urging it to reconsider the rollbacks. No NCTA action is likely until the FCC has its full five-member contingent. (Currently, the FCC has two seats open, thoughPresident Clinton last week nominated Rachelle Chong to fill one of the slots.)

In other remarks, Anstrom pressed once again for Congress to allow telcos into the cable business only under a “staged entry” approach. Under NCTA’s staged entry plan, telcos would be barred from providing cable service for seven years unless they face “effective competition” in the delivery of local phone service. Thus far, the NCTA proposal has drawn little interest from lawmakers crafting infopike legislation.

Amendment opposed

Anstrom also urged Congress to reject a telco-backed “regulatory parity” amendment expected to be offered by Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.). The amendment would exempt telcos from many of the regulatory safeguards designed to prevent cross-subsidies once a telephone company faces competition in the delivery of voice services.

Anstrom said it is “hard to believe even the phone companies are brazen enough” to support passage of the Tauzin amendment.

The new NCTA prez attributed cable’s tarnished PR image to four factors: an “unfavorable political reaction” not uncommon when a media industry “quickly rises to prominence”; cable has had “too many instances of poor service and indefensible rate increases”; broadcasters and telcos have “exploit(ed)” the “political vulnerability” of cable; and cable has a “reputation for arrogance.”

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