"The key to innovation for cable has always been two-fold: consumer demand and freedom from excessive regulation," Mr. Willner added. "Our customers have been the ultimate winners because they have more choices."
Broadcasters, who received a second block of spectrum for free from the government to launch digital broadcasting, are now urging government authorities to mandate that cable operators carry both their analog and digital signals during the digital transition. "Broadcasters now argue that we should give to them large blocks of this newly created capacity to carry duplicative digital versions of their analog channels ... to complete the digital transition," Willner explained. "Frankly, I thought the free grant of $70 billion of additional spectrum was ample incentive."
Willner pointed to the cable industry's marketplace efforts as a blueprint for a successful transition. "Since the passage of the '96 Telecommunications Act, cable has spent $42 billion to upgrade its infrastructure, adding scores of new channels, interactive services, high speed Internet access, and facilities-based telephony," Willner testified.
"It is important to note that the cable industry's digital transition is happening with our own capital, and without grants or subsidies from the government," Willner said.
He reminded the committee that the cable industry has committed to carry the primary signal of broadcasters at the conclusion of the transition, when the broadcasters return their extra free spectrum to the government. "Cable will continue to provide consumers complete access to the broadcast channels they enjoy today," Willner said. "But we are not prepared, nor do we believe the law requires us, to carry duplicative versions of each and every broadcast station."
If that occurs, Willner warned, the mandated duplicative broadcast signals would require that valuable cable bandwidth be taken away from compelling new digital services, and millions of customers would have fewer choices.
"We respectfully submit that the public interest is best served by allowing maximum flexibility for cable operators to provide consumers the new digital services they want today and in the future," Willner concluded.
NCTA is the principal trade association of the cable industry in the United States, representing cable operators serving more than 90 percent of the nation's cable television households. It also represents more than 100 cable program networks as well as equipment suppliers and providers of other services to the cable industry.