I had to watch this year’s NCTA Show from afar. Couldn’t make it to New Orleans. But having digested a whole lot of news reports about the annual events (and not a lot of the food and drink my cohorts seem to obsess about), I am struck by one thing that came through loud and clear from this year’s show: there was a lot of substance. A lot of valuable discussion about the issues we, as an industry, face, and a lot of open debate about the alternatives. This, in itself, should result in major kudos for all involved in the Show. It is very rare that the substance outshines the glitz. Looks like that happened this year, and that’s good. Part of the reason, of course, is that there is a lot going on right now, and we really do need to have substantive, serious discussions about where we are going, and how. Cable is now at the center, as I have said before, of the telecommunications evolution. Just about everything that happens in this sphere is going to impact us one way or another. The big issues, the ones we will likely be talking about and debating for the next several years, are becoming clear: the "digital transition" terminology covers a lot of things, the broadcaster shift to DTV and how the government is going to manage that. The cable shift to all-digital, and whether the government is going to try to "manage" that as well. And, of course, the shift to digital telephony, "VoIP", and the massive impact that may have on the traditional telephone industry. Looking at other "big issues" yields other technology-driven new ways of looking at things, and how much or how little the government is going to intrude itself into the marketplace for both "policy" and political reasons. Indecency is a good example. If we are just looking at "policy," then the cable industry is way ahead of the issue since our customers are being given total control over what gets into their homes. If, on the other hand, you look politically, and make an (I think erroneous) assumption that the "indecency issue" logically leads to a call for "a la carte" because it allows people "not to pay" for the programming they don’t want in their homes, then a whole different approach is likely. The entire "a la carte" issue, as I have mentioned in several recent columns, is one we are going to be debating at length – especially because it "seems" so simple. It’s not. But explaining why folks would wind up paying more for less is not easy. The same is true of one of the most confusing issues we will have to face: digital rights management, or "copyright." This gets into the fascinating debate that apparently took place in New Orleans about Video on Demand vs. DVRs. I think those two things are synergistic, not competitive, if the copyright laws are conformed to current technology realities, and a column on that is coming soon. But in the meantime, understand that this perceived "competition" is only that because identical services valued by customers if provided at the headend of the cable system are treated, legally, differently from that same service provided on the top of the television set! This makes no sense, and costs our customers money. All of these issues are going to be the focus of the next year, and I think it is not only appropriate, but laudatory that our industry, through this year’s NCTA Show, focused on the substance. Well done.