Commentary By M.C. Antil Mr. Knorr Goes to Washington I first talked to Patrick Knorr four years ago when, after having been blown away by both the concept and the execution of Best Buy’s Geek Squad, I found myself even more blown away to learn that someone in the cable business had already been doing the Geek Squad thing, and doing it for some time. That someone was the innovative and techno-savvy Knorr, who now runs Sunflower Broadband. So when I read that Patrick, who just started a two-year term as ACA chairman, was heading to Washington for that remarkable organization’s annual march up Capitol Hill to preach the gospel of America’s small independent operator, I decided to give him a call to see what was in the hearts and on the minds of the people most responsible for keeping cable’s spirit of rugged individualism alive and kicking. (And for what it’s worth, you might get a kick out of the ebullient and tireless Matt Polka and his barbershop quartet promoting the ACA Summit by going to http://www.acasummit.org). Patrick, polite and articulate as always, would eventually speak to me about retransmission consent and other issues that remain front and center for the small operator. But before that, he chose to talk to me about his independent brethren. When I mentioned to him that Sunflower remained an anomaly—a small company which, despite limited economies of scale and other financial and technical hurdles, has been willing to invest in technology roll out a stable of new digital products—he gently corrected me. "We might have been at the forefront among small operators," he said, talking about digital deployment, "but we are no longer unique. There are a lot of ACA member companies now offering digital products and services." Patrick told me that when the ACA membership meets in Washington April 17 and 18 for its baseball-themed Summit, the one issue that leads all others is one that has been on the front burner for a while. It’s an issue that is growing in importance with the MSO superpowers: namely retrans. But another issue Knorr hopes to address with lawmakers is the FCC’s ban on digital boxes that feature integrated security, a ban that kicks in this July. He said he and his fellow small and mid-size operators have been seeking a waiver for low-cost boxes, claiming that without such a waiver they might not be able to move to all-digital networks. One of the problems, Knorr explained, is that at least one of the major manufacturers of cable cards and boxes is telling the industry it won’t have them available to ship until June. "That certainly doesn’t give us much time to meet a July deadline," said Knorr. According to the ACA, they’re seeking an unconditional waiver on the integration ban until Dec 2009, or until downloadable security becomes available. Knorr also told me that, because of that tight deadline, he hoped to talk to the FCC about caps on the penalties that it might impose on companies unable to get those new boxes deployed within the mandated timeframe. Before I let him go, I asked Patrick what was the one thought he would like to instill in the minds of the lawmakers he will meet on Capitol Hill next week? He said, "I’d like them to know, we’re not Comcast. We’re not Cox or Time Warner. We’re small companies who are doing a great job, and the people who are competing against us don’t need your help. They’re big and powerful, and they’re trying to run us out of business. And if they do that, no one wins—least of all your constituents." M.C. Antil can be reached at [email protected].