Powell tells cablers: You can compete

FCC landmark decision barely touched on at NCTA confab

CHICAGO — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell issued a solemn warning to cablers Tuesday to be careful what they wish for when it comes to government intervention, because they just might get it in spades.

“The cable industry really has the tools it needs” to compete in the marketplace, he said. “So don’t blow it.”

Fresh from leading the charge to relax a host of restrictions on media ownership June 2, Powell spoke at a morning session of the National Cable Television Assn. convention in Chicago.

Powell was referring to cablers’ concerns that the FCC gave broadcast networks far too much power when it made it easier for them to gobble up extra stations in many markets.

On Monday NCTA prexy Robert Sachs implored the FCC and other lawmakers to make sure the nets don’t wield too much bargaining power against cablers during negotiations for the right to re-transmit local station signals.

He also voiced concerns that cablers are being forced to carry dozens of broadcasters’ signals, the so-called “must-carry” rules, eating too much of their bandwidth.

“As long as broadcasters enjoy free use of the public airwaves, lawmakers must be vigilant to assure that increased broadcast concentration does not exacerbate marketplace distortions created by government imposed requirements,” Sachs said.

Powell assured the industry that the FCC would resolve this dilemma.

The FCC’s landmark media ownership decision, which attracted national attention and inspired numerous editorial cartoons of News Corp. topper Rubert Murdoch ruling the world in the last two weeks, was strangely absent from the convention.

A small group of protestors carrying signs with the words “Say No to Big Media,” showed up outside the convention hall before Powell’s speech.

Inside, government officials and industry bigwigs mentioned the historic decision only in passing.