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Comcast CEO Looks Forward to Fresh Start With New FCC Chair

It's no secret that Comcast underwent several bruising years of regulatory squabbling with the Federal Communications Commission when it was headed by former Chairman Kevin Martin.

Martin pushed to reform cable pricing, which Comcast opposed. And he also sided with public interest groups and high-tech firms who complained that the cable operator blocked a video software application on its network.

But Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts said he looks forward to a "clean slate" under new leadership at the agency. In an interview today at The Cable Show, the industry's annual trade show hosted by the National Cable and Telecommunication, Roberts said he expects that incoming FCC chair Julius Genachowski, will push for more access and adoption of high-speed Internet service.

He said Comcast is planning to spend an additional $300 million to $400 million from its coffers this year to upgrade its networks to all-digital and introduce its fastest Internet speeds.

"We have to be the first deploying those speeds. There is a whole generation of innovation coming at 100 megabits per second," Roberts said. "This is the time to invest."

He also said that Comcast isn't currently seeking subsidies from the government's $7.2 billion in stimulus funds set aside for broadband networks.

Roberts pointed to strong ties the company has with leadership in the Obama administration, including Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps.

"They know we are at the cusp of change with broadband and they want to get it right," he said. But when asked about new rules or stronger enforcement of the FCC principles on how carriers can manage content and applications on their networks, Roberts warned such action could hurt the industry.

"Any uncertainty through new laws slows down innovation," Roberts said.

Yet perhaps the biggest uncertainty facing the cable induustry is the very technology it also sees as its future: online applications. With video Web sites like Hulu and YouTube offering video content for free or cheap, the cable industry's traditional model of getting revenue through subscriptions and advertisements is expected to diminish.

Roberts, however, said the company can't ignore the popularity of the Web as a distribution mechanism for video. Instead, he said the company is investing in more interactive Web features like on-demand video. Since its inception in 2003, Comcast has had 11 billion on-demand requests -- an application that allows viewers to watch pre-recorded video at any time.

Online video views also are valuable in that they build loyalty from consumers. The Daily Show on Comedy Central, for example, is often watched on video distribution sites like Comedy Central or YouTube without the same advertising benefits as they would provide if they were watched on the channel. But those online views bring viewer back to Comedy Central, he said.

"The last thing you want to do is have your head in the sand like the record labels did," Roberts said. "What you want to do is get your viewers to be passionate followers and broaden your relationship to last longer than the 30 minutes of their favorite show."

By Cecilia Kang  |  April 1, 2009; 6:23 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
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Let the "New" relationship include a la carte pricing! I'd like to see my Oligopolistic monthly bill come down from it's current $150 level!

Posted by: Max231 | April 1, 2009 9:06 PM

I only Hope Brian Roberts, Post Publishing (Cable One), Cox Enterprises (Cox Cable), Charter, Mediacom, Time Warner and the other MSO's will back off the fight to kill 'leased access' and let us have that 'level playing field' they always cry for.
As president of the national leased access programmer’s assn., I hope the new FCC chairman will see we get a fair shake and will take action to have the courts rule in favor of the new leased access rules the cable industry spent a fortune last year opposing in court at OMB and with false information fed to the press.
Comcast started with the Tupelo, Ms. cable system and as the Mississippi based operator of StogTv, the only known nationwide user of leased access, I hope Brian Roberts will do the right thing and work with me and our industry and stop fighting us. I'd like those MSOs operated by newspapers to begin being more of a community minded media, like a newspaper, than the greedy operators they've become.
So, only hope the cable industry is ready to join me in asking for fairness.

Posted by: Stog | April 1, 2009 9:35 PM

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