The relationship between a cable operator and a vendor usually resembles a hammer and a nail. Mark Barber has just signed up to be a nail, leaving a hammer-rich spot as corporate vice president of telephony at Charter Communications to become vice president of the newly formed cable group at NeuStar. Thanks to that Charter experience, Barber’s hoping he won’t be hammered too hard by his former brethren when he pushes forth the idea that IP is changing the way cable operates and that operators need a carrier-neutral clearinghouse like NeuStar to manage their IP-centric business. "We (the cable industry) traditionally have owned and managed customers very tightly, often with proprietary systems. Those systems are going to have to start opening up, and as they open up, that’s where the industry doesn’t have tremendous depth," says Barber. IP changes the game Over the years, he says, cable has become insulated in how it keeps its content safe, either scrambling it away from unauthorized viewers or setting up parental control systems so adults can decide what children can see. IP content flows over computers and cell phones-not cable boxes-and that changes everything. "Certainly you don’t want X-rated content going to a minor," he says. "These are unique problems for the cable industry because we’ve always had closed systems, and we’ve always had ways of controlling." The chance exists for cable to grab new revenues by moving its content to outside access media, and that means "there’s a level of management that really needs a neutral third party that’s going to allow customers to access content and, where there are billing settlements that need to occur, allows them to occur without exposing the identify users," Barber says. IP opens the networks to nonfacilities-based players, like Vonage and EarthLink who piggyback on cable’s networks with their own IP offerings, and creates new peering and sharing arrangements with other facilities-based telecommunications carriers. "In the end, it’s going to be the provider that can tie them together in the most invisible fashion so the customer can access what he wants, where he wants and with the device he wants to use," Barber says. "In some cases, it will be the facilities-based carrier that provides that; in others, it’ll be the people who are riding over the top." Barber leans toward the cable industry. "You have to believe that the facilities-based carrier has an advantage, but there’s a window of opportunity, and if we don’t take advantage of the content we have in the cable industry, we’re missing a huge opportunity," he says. New responsibilities Even though he’s now working for a vendor, Barber can’t seem to shake the "we" when speaking of the cable industry. He understands, of course, that he’s now on the other side of the fence and that many operators no longer consider him part of their greater "we." "On the operator side, when I had a concept for a new product or service … it was just a matter of finding out what companies I needed to make it happen," Barber says. "On the vendor side, I’m sitting here saying I have a vision that I think makes sense. How do we collaborate on it? In one sense I was the driver; now I’m the enabler." Barber carries another responsibility; he must establish NeuStar’s cable focus. "While a lot of the services that we currently provide for the wireless and wireline industries directly apply to cable, there are some unique needs in the cable space, and we think we can better enable their rollout," Barber says. "You’re going to see more integration between data products, video content products and telephony. The products and services we’re focusing on are those that can better enable the tying together of those services … across networks to other providers." The challenge, he reiterates, is to convince his former brethren to share. "The cable industry … has a wealth of great content, services and applications," he says, but it will only "realize the full value of that media when it becomes agnostic to the networks it traverses and the devices that the customer uses to access it." -Jim Barthold

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Cable Urges FCC to Keep 25/3 Benchmark

NCTA, ACA Connects and others are urging the FCC not to raise its 25/3 speed benchmark as the agency begins to craft its annual Section 706 report.

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