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NCTA Chairman Michael Powell fears heavy regulation of Internet

May 21, 2012|By Joe Flint

BOSTON -- The government needs to take a light touch when it comes to regulating the Internet, warned Michael Powell, a former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission who is now head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., which is the cable industry's lobbying arm.

"Letting politics allocate resources – rather than market economics and entrepreneurs – would kill investment and leave the Internet in the state we find today’s post office, electric grid or crumbling transportation system," Powell told attendees in his opening remarks at the NCTA's annual convention here.

Calling media watchdogs and public policy advocates who push for greater regulation of the Internet "the doomsayer chorus in Washington," Powell warned that heavy-handed oversight of a developing industry would do far more harm than good.

"Some naysayers are carping because they don’t like the U.S. private enterprise model," Powell said, adding that they "prefer European-style regulation where the government effectively owns or controls the network, pumping taxpayer money into subsidizing service and managing competition." 

That, Powell said, would be a "disastrous path" to go down. "Confiscating private networks would put our already broke government on the hook to keep tens of billions of dollars annually flowing into network innovation," he said.

There is concern among media watchdogs that without strong government oversight, the cable and telephone companies that control the pipes that deliver broadband will not compete fairly with other services or create a level playing field for all content providers.

Powell did say the cable industry needs to speed up wiring the entire country and not leave out rural America or low-income families.

"This is critical because a child without access to the Internet will find life increasingly difficult in the Information Age," Powell said.

He also noted that cable companies need to show their subscribers that the industry won't be a roadblock to new platforms.

"We’ve heard your wish and we are working to make it come true, by delivering cable content to iPads, Xboxes, smartphones and whatever that next cool thing is that pops out," Powell said.

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