NCTA Chief Michael Powell Asks for ‘Regulatory Humility’

But speech at cable show avoids big issues

What NCTA CEO Michael Powell did say about the rise of Internet video during his opening remarks at the Cable Show in Chicago this morning felt more like nervous reassurance than a proud declaration of continued dominance. “We help power the American dream,” he said, sounding a particularly lofty note in a speech packed with sweeping rhetoric. “The Internet has changed communications forever… You need to be everywhere if you hope to remain relevant.”

That was the thrust of the Internet-related, how-do-we-adapt, portion of his speech. The rest of it was focused on the need for keeping regulation in Washington D.C. modest as the industry continues to evolve.

It’s a topic Powell is particularly familiar with given his background as chairman of the FCC under President George W. Bush from 2001 until 2005. “As an industry we believe in competing in free markets,” Powell said. “We need to spend as much time pruning old [regulations] as we do planting new seeds….We will always urge a little regulatory humility.”

Powell highlighted the fact that in the Internet age, there are many more players in the regulatory field, and that the cable providers and programmers needed to act in concert when it comes to fighting regulation and lobbying on behalf of industry interests. “We will stand together with one strong and united voice.”

Maybe because the voice isn't yet united on them, Powell avoided some of the tougher regulatory questions facing the industry these days—such as net neutrality and retransmission consent reform (consent fees are charged by broadcasters to local providers for the retransmission of their content), which is currently under FCC review—as well as broadband caps.

One broad point he hit continued to resonate throughout the rest of the opening session, though. The future for the industry, he said, “is uncertain and daunting.”