Cox president calls for level playing field

Speaking at GlobalComm, he says all he wants is to compete fairly using the same sets of rules the phone companies use.

CHICAGO--Cox Communications President Patrick Esser isn't afraid of competition in the TV market from the phone companies, but he said the competitive landscape must be free of regulatory burdens to ensure everyone is on a level playing field.

In a keynote address at the GlobalComm telecommunications trade show here on Tuesday, Esser railed against the Bell phone companies for their legions of lobbyists beating a path to "Congress, state legislators and public utility commissions seeking regulatory roadblocks, sweetheart deals and short cuts to coast into the video business."

"What troubles me most about the competitive landscape today isn't the Bells' fiber-to-the-home promises or their deep discounting of DSL service," he said. "We'll contend with this as we always have...What troubles me most are the competitive battles over the rules of the game being waged in Washington, D.C., and state capitols."

The phone companies, Verizon Communications and AT&T have been lobbying Congress and state legislators for more than a year to change laws so they can obtain statewide or nationwide video franchise agreements. The phone companies, which are entering the TV market to compete against cable operators, say the current franchise system that requires new entrants to negotiate contracts with individual municipalities takes too long.

Cable companies have previously argued that it's unfair to change the rules for the benefit of the phone companies. Esser said during his speech that any new rules must apply to everyone.

"I'm all for a less cumbersome, streamlined franchising process that reflects modern competitive results," he said. "But it must apply immediately and evenly to everyone, regardless of the delivery platform. If Verizon, AT&T and others want video franchises, they should be granted--on the same terms as cable."

Separate legislation to change the video franchise process is currently being debated in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Esser said in an interview after his speech that he is not opposed to either bill, since both would allow cable operators to follow the same rules as the phone companies when it comes to franchise arrangements.

"Honestly, I don't think a new law is necessary," he said during the interview. "But if new laws are passed, all we ask is that they are reasonable and fair."

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