FCC chief to cable industry: You've changed

FCC chief to cable industry: You've changed
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The cable industry is more about broadband Internet than television, the nation’s top communications regulator told companies on Wednesday, in remarks that shed light on the evolving nature of federal oversight.

“You are no longer the ‘cable’ industry,” Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler told a national cable industry conference on Wednesday.  

“You are the leading association of leading broadband providers. It’s something to celebrate.”

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The comments speak to the FCC’s opposition to Comcast’s abandoned $45 billion plan to buy Time Warner Cable, Wheeler said.

“It is important to understand that the tipping point from cable to broadband came while the transaction was under review,” he said. “We recognized that the industry had changed and we saw concrete evidence of the new competition and business models made possible by high-speed Internet access.”

The two cable companies announced that they were scuttling the massive merger last month, after more than a year of regulatory review and amid rising criticism about the combination of the nation’s two largest cable companies.

Among other concerns, opponents of the merger feared that it would have given Comcast unprecedented control over people’s access to the Internet, both in their options for broadband provider as well as what types of service they are able to get online.

If the merger had been approved, Comcast would have controlled of as much as 57 percent of the nation’s access to broadband Internet, according to estimates. Comcast owns NBC Universal, and critics feared the expanded company could have had the ability and incentive to prioritize content from that company over competitors, especially as more entertainment makes its way through the the Internet instead of on cable television.

Just this week, Comcast announced that the number of people with subscriptions for access to the Internet had for the first time surpassed the number of people with cable T subscriptions.

But it’s not just about Comcast, Wheeler said.

“This shift has implications far beyond this transaction for the industry at large,” he warned on Wednesday. “As you have changed, so have the issues and the obligations, and the opportunities.”

He challenged the industry to “continue to invest and to innovate” in first-class services, and also to live up to its promises not to unfairly interfere with people’s access to the Internet.

After Wheeler delivered his remarks, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association — which hosted Wednesday’s conference — said that its companies were “strong supporters of an open and robust Internet,” and were delivering ever-faster Web speeds.