Cable has reached a "tipping point" when it comes to expensive sports content and needs to work with sports nets to figure out how to absorb carriage costs, Comcast chmn/CEO Brian Roberts said Thurs in Washington. His comments came days after sources said the MSO plans to try to move NFL Net to a sports tier next year (Cfax, 9/19). "I think it’s time to call for a serious dialogue on this issue," he told attendees of the Progress & Freedom Foundation’s CEO luncheon event. At issue is whether all cable subs, or just sports fans who watch those nets, should pay for them. Case in point: Comcast just last month hiked all D.C.-area bills by $2 per month to pay for carriage of regional sports net MASN, even though many subs will never watch it (Cfax, 8/14). Roberts-always the diplomat-avoided any outright suggestion that only sports fans should pay for those channels, saying "there’s no right or wrong… I don’t think there’s a perfect solution." But while the sports-tier debate has raged for years, Roberts said cable bills pushing $100 per month and beyond creates a "sea change" that all sides must address. — Other Comcastic Wisdom: Roberts said the FCC should delay its planned July ’07 deadline for cable ops to strip out security components from cable set-tops, arguing that cable and CE camps need more time to work out a downloadable security platform; he called that "cheaper and much more secure" than the CableCARD route. He also urged better interconnection rules that keep incumbent telcos from gaming the system (such as taking nearly a week to port over a telephone number) and repeated the mantra that net-neutrality rules would be "a solution searching for a problem." He insisted such regs would chill investment. — Kudos to Roberts for sticking around after the speech to take questions from analysts Aryeh Bourkoff (UBS), Blair Levin (Stifel Nicolaus) and Craig Moffett (Sanford C. Bernstein). But then again, having 2 blowout quarters under your belt probably makes such Q&As considerably less grueling.

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