Verizon, Comcast execs slam regulation

Cable met telecommunications Monday at the Telecom '04 trade show in Las Vegas as the top executives of Verizon and Comcast both urged decreased regulation of communications in a joint keynote appearance.

Cable met telecommunications Monday at the Telecom '04 trade show in Las Vegas as the top executives of Verizon and Comcast both urged decreased regulation of communications in a joint keynote appearance.

However, while Verizon Chairman and CEO Ivan Seidenberg urged a total rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Comcast President and CEO Brian Roberts warned against opening a can of worms through such a wholesale approach.

The addresses came at the start of a conference that provides plenty of evidence that the two worlds are converging, with vendors introducing products to help cable operators and carriers alike offer similar baskets of voice, video and data services.

New technology has transformed the communications world since the 1996 act was passed, Seidenberg said. Now that cable companies can offer voice calling and carriers are heading toward multimedia services such as IP TV, competition is driving innovation on both sides, he said.

"There is no room for economic regulation in the broadband world," Seidenberg said, echoing an aggressive defense of free-market principles delivered before the keynote by Walter McCormick, president and CEO of the U.S. Telecom Association, which sponsors the show.

Greater unity among sectors of the communications industry will speed up reform of the 1996 act, Seidenberg told reporters at a question-and-answer session following the keynote. He is optimistic a major reworking of the Act can be completed within a year or two, with the industry focused more on the external battle against regulation than on fights such as the local versus long-distance carrier conflict of years past.

"I think that this will get done because I think the dynamics are different," he said.

The major hurdle that looms now is a reshuffling in government that is likely to happen following the November election, no matter who wins, he said. They key for the industry is to keep government's attention, he said.

Comcast's Roberts struck a similar deregulatory note.

"New regulations of any kind on any of us should be subject to a strict burden of proof," he said, adding that all IP-based services should be subject to a bare minimum of regulation. However, he urged caution in changing regulations, saying the industry is at an evolutionary rather than a critical juncture. For example, one type of broadband provider pushing for regulations to hurt another would be counterproductive, he warned.

Telecom '04 continues through Wednesday.

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.