By Seth Arenstein It was only half tongue in cheek that the marketing pitch for ACA’s 13th annual D.C. Summit was "The Stakes Are High." Along with a Summit press kit, trade reporters received poker chips and cards. In keeping with this theme the ACA’s final-night party, at FedEx Field in Maryland, home of Washington’s pro football team, featured poker, blackjack and fake money (the only kind the NFL allows when its facilities are used for betting). But there’s nothing fake about the concerns of ACA’s small and midsize cable operators. Although Washington in early May is a treat in itself, ACA’s record crowd came to the Capitol City for business reasons and a daylong chance to lobby lawmakers. The ACA’s members have a checklist of concerns: Retransmission Consent Reform: Despite the popular press coverage of sexier stories, this issue arguably is the top priority; the lobbying power of broadcasters was a constant theme. Broadcast Exclusivity: Market exclusivity gives broadcasters the leverage to extract monopoly prices and terms for retransmission consent, ACA chief Matt Polka says. Net Neutrality: Allowing large computer companies unfettered access to cable’s broadband pipe could be the top longer-term issue, Polka believes. Fair Franchise Rules: With their tremendous size, why do telcos deserve help to compete against cable? RUS Loans: These loans are supposed to subsidize the building of broadband systems in unserved rural areas, but most are funding overbuilds that compete with cable (CableWorld, 01/24/05). DTV Transition: Congress isn’t aware of challenges the transition will place on independent operators in smaller and rural markets. While there was a positive mood at ACA’s gathering—members are bullish on the fundamentals of cable’s triple play, particularly the growth potential of data and voice—it would be wrong to say there wasn’t plenty of skepticism about Congress. Although we heard nothing but admiration for Polka and NCTA chief Kyle McSlarrow, there were also major concerns about how much work they must do to get lawmakers to understand cable’s side of the issues. You’ll find some comfort and long-term perspective from Comcast co-founder Ralph Roberts in this issue, who in his 40-plus years in cable has been in challenging spots before. "You can get an ulcer every 10 years if you’re so inclined," he says. Part of his prescription: Change to meet the problems and, above all, service the customer properly. That’s a good bet.

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