By Steve Effros CHOICES The telecommunications marketplace has always been fast moving. Telecommunications policy has always been plagued with the problem of battling out all the issues and getting legislation in print only to find that it’s out of date before the ink dries. I’ve been part of this strange Sisyphean challenge for 30 years. I’ve never seen it as difficult, or moving at the dizzying pace it is now. The lesson I take away from this is that we have to change course. Rather than write more rules and regulations we have to write fewer, if any at all. Consider what’s happening around us. Advertiser-supported broadcast television has been augmented by cable with its dual revenue stream allowing for more diversity of programming and far more versatile technology. Satellite proved the value of digital transmission, which now has spread to both broadcast and cable. Broadband has fueled the success of the Internet which allows for easy, customized distribution of digital information, including both audio and video. The Internet is now in the throes of figuring out financing models for "programming" (application as well as audio and video) that look strikingly like a combination of advertiser-supported and fee models used by cable, satellite and broadcasters! The bottom line result is the consumer is now faced with myriad choices. This, of course, is good. However, the choices are now multiplying so rapidly that it has become virtually impossible for anyone to accurately gauge their impact. Will "mobile TV" on cell phones have any significant effect on the television market that we have known? Is it a substitute for a new generation in the way they watch television or is it an additional convenience? What about video over the Internet? The buzz this week is about YouTube. But it can’t be missed that in a front page article in the Washington Post this week the question was asked whether, and how long this latest "leader" in the "field" would dominate. Note that YouTube is only five months old! That’s how fast things are moving. As I have noted many times, none of this is bad for the cable industry. We are positioned to deliver essentially anything our customers want. The advent, for instance, of the "network DVR," allows cable to work closely with the advertising community, the creative community, and yes, even the broadcasters to tailor customer services. Want a movie commercial-free? Pay for it through VOD. Different prices for different "release" windows. A lower price if commercials are inserted. Free if the commercials are embedded and must be "clicked through" in order to see the rest of the episode, and so on. Choices. Want to download but not copy to a portable device? One price. Want to port it over to other equipment? Another price. And so on. How will all this work? What do consumers really want and how will they use it? Anyone who says they know is lying. That’s why it doesn’t make any sense to try writing extensive new regulations (like the undefined "net neutrality" idea) when we don’t really have any indication how these services, and how these infrastructures will develop. They are moving too fast and the only thing government regulation will do is slow them down, if not stop, or kill them completely. What a mistake that would be! Look around; whenever there has been little or no new government intrusion, as in Internet delivery, except when a specific problem is remedied; usually in court under existing laws, the public has won with more choice. That’s the way it should be.

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