The rest of the world has finally figured out that there is heated competition between the cable and telephone industries. It took the latest reincarnation of AT&T to get the point across, but, OK, they’ve finally got it. The proposed merger of AT&T (SBC) and BellSouth would create a company larger than the original AT&T before the breakup in 1984. It would create a company with a market capitalization that is larger than the entire cable industry. So, yes, we have competition, especially when you consider that there’s another company, Verizon, which has roughly the same-sized market cap as the entire cable industry, also in the game. Precisely because these folks are so big, and have been regulated common carrier monopolies for so many years, the inclination is going to be to ask why they shouldn’t continue to be considered that way. Unfortunately for us, cable then becomes the tail on the dog some argue needs to be leashed. To be sure, that’s going to result in lots of columns on these pages about things like "net neutrality." It’s actually a far more complex subject than most of the debate would imply as of today. As time goes on more of the regulators and legislators will begin to appreciate that. Ironically, it can be argued that "net neutrality" imposed on the new, fully reconstituted AT&T would only help that facilities-based competitor fend off any other new facilities-based competition. Of course cable is already in place to compete, so they haven’t succeeded in completely putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again, but it’s close. Does that mean that cable is in trouble? No, I don’t think so. There’s a fundamental point that has to be made. The telephone companies, for all their money (and they have lots of it) and all their lobbying and advertising expertise (and they have plenty of that, too) don’t have much experience in packaging and delivering content to their customers. That’s what we do in the cable business. We have had to teach our customers how to find the programming they want, or don’t want in their homes. We have taken the responsibility to deal with media literacy, and been held responsible for the content we deliver. The telephone folks have never experienced those sorts of things. When was the last time a telephone installer showed you how to use your telephone? Program your answering machine? Fielded complaint calls about what someone said to you on the phone? We do all those things. They are fundamental to our business. One part of the upcoming competition we face will be to make sure we continue to stay ahead on that curve of fundamental skills. The explanation of programming options, the packaging and easy navigation of video-on-demand offerings, and the aggregation of content into packages that are economically attractive to our customers and at the same time supportive of our programming partners. These are not easy skills to learn, and they require constant improvement. So while the debate heats up about things like "net neutrality" on the broadband part of our business, and while voice services provide new glue for our bundled offerings, we should never, ever forget the fundamentals. We started as the cable industry and that is the heritage we have to maintain, because while we may have not done everything perfectly along the way, we’ve done it better than anyone else ever has. So long as we continue to do that, we’re going to do fine.

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