Budgets still are agonizingly tight here at EE Times, and we had to assess our conference coverage carefully for the spring. NetWorld+Interop and Supercomm made the cut (and you'll be reading N+I coverage over the next couple of weeks), but the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's conference in New Orleans didn't.
It's ironic that we had to dispense with both our Western Show and NCTA coverage at a time when the cable multisystem operator clearly is way ahead of traditional telcos in enabling broadband access. The problem is that MSOs often aren't treated seriously enough when it comes to their ability to perform a coup in converged services for voice and data.
Often, the cost of upgrading those hundreds of digital channels for HDTV takes precedence over "triple-play" service because the MSO is playing first and foremost to a passive audience base.
Based on the paltry news coverage coming out of New Orleans, attendance at NCTA was decent enough, but MSO executives still were in a funk over depressed stock prices and a lack of direction. Many blamed the Comcast bid for Disney as distracting Comcast from a more rational bid for Adelphia, but Comcast executives (no surprise) saw that as a rationalization for a wider malaise.
No money in voice
Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell made the case at NCTA for voice-over-Internet Protocol as the knife with which an MSO can exterminate an incumbent Baby Bell. He's right, to the extent that incumbents haven't really addressed how quickly circuit-switched voice will be eliminated by the commoditization of packets. But while VoIP may be an MSO's tactical weapon against a telephony competitor, it won't allow any type of carrier to make money in the long run. Voice, as the saying goes, rides for free.
HDTV support may be an albatross around the necks of MSOs, but these carriers have spent most of the capital necessary to enable effective integrated services. MSOs should continue to focus on content first, and that often means one-way entertainment.
At the same time, they must use their broadband-access advantage to take the lead in triple-play service. Then they must do a better job explaining those advantages to investors, customers and analysts.
Loring Wirbel is Communications editorial director for EE Times and its network publications.