Policy

NCTA, Cities: Can You Hear Us Now?

1/28/2005 7:43 AM Eastern

The cable industry is reaching out to local governments to test whether they can forge an alliance to block Verizon Communications from waltzing into the cable business under liberalized state laws designed to accommodate the phone giant’s broadband-deployment plans.

Cable’s relationship with cities and towns has never been easy, and it probably reached its nadir three years ago, when cable backed the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to deny local governments about $500 million in annual cable-modem fees.

Heavily suspicious about Verizon’s local lobbying, cable is making a concession to political expediency by seeking some sort of truce with local officials as part of plan to present a united front against the telco.

Discussions began a few weeks ago at National Cable & Telecommunications Association headquarters in Washington, D.C., and included representatives from the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The meeting covered a range of issues and not just a battle plan to confront Verizon, one source said.

Another source viewed the meeting differently, claiming that NCTA president Robert Sachs was quite specific about the industry’s goals and its reasons for wanting to work jointly with local government.

When asked about the meeting, an NCTA spokesman declined to comment, noting that the trade group does not generally discuss private meetings with the media.

Cable’s feelers to local government come as both Verizon and SBC Communications Inc. push ahead with plans to invest billions of dollars to weave fiber into their networks, with the intent to raid cable’s subscriber base street-by-street.

MSOs already face stiff satellite competition from EchoStar Communications Corp. and DirecTV Inc., but the two Baby Bells plan to take on cable with a voice, video and data bundle that the two satellite carriers are incapable of matching.

For more on cable’s efforts to combat competition from Verizon and SBC, please see Ted Hearn’s story on page 1 of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.

September