Cable met telecommunications at the Telecom '04 trade show in Las Vegas as the top executives of Verizon Communications and Comcast both urged decreased regulation of communications in a joint keynote speech.
However, while Verizon chairman and chief executive Ivan Seidenberg urged a total rewrite of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Comcast president and chief executive 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 suppliers introducing products to help cable operators and carriers alike offer similar 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 internet protocol TV (IPTV), competition is driving innovation on both sides, he said.
"There is no room for economic regulation in the broadband world," Seidenberg said.
Greater unity among sectors of the communications industry will speed up reform of the 1996 Act, Seidenberg said. 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.
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.
Seidenberg is confident Verizon will be able to attract competitive content from well-known providers such as Walt Disney. Starting with its third-generation mobile phone platform for cartoons and music, and eventually adding multiple high-definition IPTV channels on its fiber network, Verizon will be where content providers want to be, he said.
"We think we have leverage at the table because we have a distribution platform," Seidenberg said.
Stephen Lawson writes for IDG News Service