SCTE member since 1998 Title: SVP, Hardware, NCTC Broadband background: Mark Bishop joined the National Cable Television Cooperative in 1997 and has been instrumental in growing the NCTC’s hardware business from a $4.5 million to a $130 million department. He previously worked with Sprint North Supply and HBO and began his sales career in the consumer products group of Beatrice Inc. (now part of ConAgra). How have your members responded to an increasingly competitive environment? You can’t really answer that question one way for all members. You have to break our members into groups. Take a look at the traditional cable operators, for instance. Most of the subscribers that purchase through the co-op are controlled by probably our top 50 or 60 members. They’re big, and they have critical mass. So they’re responding very well to increased competition. They’re launching high-definition tiers, DVRs, video on demand, and they all have voice trials or active VoIP deployments underway. They’re pretty much doing what the top-five MSOs are doing, just a little later in the launch cycle. What about the smaller operators? The true, independent, small-market cable operators are the ones that Comcast Media Center is really going to help with its new expanded basic (all-digital) tier. High-speed data is pretty much universally deployed, which has been a real saving grace. But they really don’t have the critical mass of content to compete effectively against the satellite companies. They don’t have the fear of Verizon or SBC coming in and overbuilding them any time soon; satellite is doing that job just fine. In a lot of cases, they’ve really come to depend on high-speed data as their only differentiating service. But the future holds great opportunity for these small systems. One part of Comcast Media Center’s new digital solution is a high-definition tier of programming. So this is going to be the first time that they’ve been able to deploy not only a complete and full digital video line-up, but also a high-definition tier. In addition, once the small operators install the equipment necessary to offer the Motorola/CMC solution, they also acquire the capability to roll out DVR service. I believe that these new service offerings will revitalize the competitiveness of our smaller member companies. And then there’s another group? There are actually close to 400 telco companies who are part of our membership. They’re traditional cable operators—they’re typically the incumbent cable operator—but they are associated through corporate parentage with a telco company. Some are already into quad play and are actively integrating their telco and cable assets. And they’ll tell you: "We’ve been experiencing competition for years. We know what competition is." And they’re very calm about it. But they’re under the gun, too? Look at a company like Horry (Telephone Cooperative). They’re getting overbuilt by Verizon and Time Warner, and they’re a cell phone reseller, and cell-phone has multiple competitive providers. They just approach competition in a very systematic, deliberate, business-like manner. They understand the importance of strong community involvement, exceptional customer service and strong packaging. They’re not only responding to the competition, but also taking the initiative in their market. Can they teach cable operators a few lessons? Well, they are cable operators. People tend to put all telcos in the same pot. You can take a look at some of our biggest, best and oldest members, and they’ve managed both a coaxial plant and a twisted-pair plant simultaneously for decades. But what they’ve done is a great job of sharing assets, sharing resources, taking what they’ve learned from one side of their business and transferring that knowledge to the other side. So what I see from our telco operators is that they have the same sophistication as our larger cable members, including a deep knowledge and asset pool. And I see a very focused approach to dealing with competition, and a keen desire to grow their customer base. Are your members concerned about the proliferation of consumer electronics devices designed to run over any network? It’s less of an issue in rural markets than in city markets, which obviously have earlier adoption rates and lots of big consumer electronics retailers. But our members are trying to figure out how to take advantage of those same new technologies. Fidelity Communications down in southern Missouri, for example, is experimenting with videophone service through a third party. Our members would like to figure out how to profit from new broadband opportunities in the same manner the larger MSO ‘s do.