In January 1994, we changed the name of the Community Antenna Television Association to the Cable Telecommunications Association. CATA was the first cable industry trade association to change its name, recognizing the broader scope of the industry. By the end of the ’90s, just about every cable association had followed suit.
The name change was not insignificant. We had grown from a group of forward looking folks providing community antenna service to one that recognized, almost by accident at first, that the infrastructure we were building could do a lot of things, not just deliver antenna service for television.
Actually, the realization that cable could be a lot more had been around for a long time. In the early 1970s, there were books published, the most famous of them Ralph Lee Smith’s "The Wired Nation," that touted the potential power of the new telecommunications cables being strung in communities across the country. Talk of new and better television was only one part of a story that included inklings of the power of two-way information, including data, distance learning, electronic medical services, home monitoring and yes, even a telephone challenge to "Ma Bell." The time frames may have been wrong, but the ideas proved correct. All of those things are part of the mix today.
As Brian Roberts said in an analyst call the other day, "It’s not about basic video any more." Of course Roberts runs the company that bought the company (a telco) which coined the phrase "…broadband is the way."
Well, the cable telecommunications industry has now built the largest, most robust broadband infrastructure in the United States. We use a combination of coaxial and fiber-optic cables, but the point is we now know and are actively pursuing all of the capabilities of those cables. And when cable is not the appropriate medium to achieve the telecommunications we facilitate, then we use other technologies; thus the recent announcements about WiMax and WiFi Mesh plans by cable operators.
So we are all going to New Orleans this weekend, and there is good reason to be feeling good. We are the dominant broadband infrastructure in the US, and there is every indication that we understand what that entails. We’re not in any way static. We saw the opportunity of data transmission and the Internet, and we jumped on it. We designed a very flexible DOCSIS protocol that then allowed us to move into voice, and now we are accelerating into business services, alarm services, etc., while still innovating with Video On Demand and even video downloading and streaming in new forms.
In some of the things we do, we’ll continue to be publishers (program originators) or editors (multichannel program providers), and in other areas, like data and voice transmission, we will be the primary pipe people use to communicate. It’s going to be a challenge to keep track of it all.
Innovation and flexibility are key to our continued success, and an understanding—not only internally, but externally—to our customers, the regulators and the legislators, that we’re now the core of the new telecommunications industry. Sure, the telcos are here. They are very big (they spent over $110 million lobbying Congress in the first quarter of this year!), and they represent a tremendous competitive force. It’s going to be Telecom vs. Telco for a long time to come, particularly given the sheer bulk of our competitor. But we have good reason to celebrate this year: 14 years after we started the process of declaring ourselves telecommunications players, we are now the telecommunications leaders.