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3/20/2006
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Disney's Iger: No Net Neutrality Laws Needed

The Disney CEO also said his company supports a national franchising plan to make it easier for telcos to get into the video delivery business, while "also supporting a level playing field for cable companies."

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger weighed in on the network neutrality debate Monday with an opinion guaranteed to please his hosts here at the TelecomNext show -- in that he doesn't think any new legislation is needed.

"We appreciate the pledges made" by the telecom and cable companies not to block or degrade services, applications or content, Iger said at the end of his keynote presentation. "We do not support any [Network Neutrality] legislation at this time."

Iger's was the only clear statement made on the issue during Monday afternoon's rapid-fire session of keynote presentations here, a slate of presenters that included Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, Time-Warner cable CEO Glenn Britt and Norio Wada, President & CEO of Japanese provider NTT. The executive viewpoints were the headline event on the first day of the TelecomNext event, the new yearly gathering for the conglomerate of telecom providers that belong to the U.S. Telecom Association.

While Verizon and Seidenberg have contributed mightily to the Network Neutrality debate, weighing in strongly against any new legislation both in public appearances and in written statements, on Monday Seidenberg only made passing references to the issue in a speech that mainly focused on Verizon's strategy for building faster networks for the future.

Calling the light regulation of the wireless and cable markets "a good framework," Seidenberg said that "business and government need a shared vision to vault into the markets of the 21st century."

Iger, whose company is already participating in partnerships with access providers like Verizon and distributors like Apple's iTunes store for its branded content, said he's generally against heavy government regulation in areas where he sees "market forces" doing a good job of policing competition. He also said that Disney supports a national franchising plan to make it easier for telcos to get into the video-delivery business, while "also supporting a level playing field for cable companies."

Iger also said Disney opposes regulatory or legislative requirements to offer a la carte cable programming, an idea that seems to be a favorite of FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

"It [a la carte regulation] is bad for our business, bad for your business and bad for the consumer," said Iger to the assembled crowd of mainly telco company employees, their customers and equipment suppliers. "I don't belive there's any market-based need [for such regulations]."

Offering somewhat of a counterpoint was NTT's Wada, who talked about his company's plans to build a fiber-based network in Japan that he said would be open to competitive providers and Internet service providers. Perhaps the most-curious inclusion in Monday's lineup was cable chief Britt, who noted that previously he might not have been invited to a USTA event.

But since Time-Warner cable is among the leaders in providing Voice over IP services -- the company claims 1.1 million users -- Britt deserves a spot at TelecomNext as much as the next CEO, and said to his new friends that they can expect competition from Time-Warner Cable on both the market and regulatory fronts, as they seek a "level playing field" on which to offer products and services.

Britt, who said he is opposed to the wholesale imposition of "old telecom rules" on cable companies entering the phone markets, derided companies (who he didn't name) who "run to the government, asking for favors to hobble competitors."

Britt said Time-Warner Cable is "for a level playing field -- and you can expect us to oppose any efforts to tilt it."

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