FCC’s Tom Wheeler: ‘More Competition Would Be Better’

If the cable industry is looking for any breaks, it won't have much luck with the Federal Communications Commission. Tom Wheeler, the former cable-industry lobbyist turned FCC chairman, showed his teeth on Wednesday at the annual television industry convention in Chicago. He warned cable executives not to stifle competition, especially when it comes to Internet service, during a keynote speech that left many in the audience visibly squirming.

"Your challenge will be to overcome the temptation to use your predominant position in broadband to protect your traditional cable business," Wheeler told the crowd. "The Internet will disrupt your existing business model. It does that to everyone."

He urged: "More competition would be better."

The timing of his address before the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn. comes at a crucial point for an industry trying to gauge how active regulators plan to be.

Just two weeks ago, the FCC and U.S. Department of Justice slapped down Comcast's $45-billion takeover bid for Time Warner Cable. And still looming is AT&T's $48-billion offer to buy DirecTV, a deal that would make the combined company America's biggest pay-TV provider.

But that's not all. Top cable executives on a panel after Wheeler's speech seemed bullish about a wave of industry consolidation.

Time Warner Cable Chief Executive Robert Marcus and Charter Communications Chief Executive Thomas Rutledge were under the spotlight during a panel of top brass from five cable companies. There has been intense speculation that the two companies are currently in deal talks.

Asked if the two CEOs had anything to announce, Rutledge said, "The world is full of possibilities."

Not to be outdone, Cablevision Chief Executive James Dolan said during the panel that he was ready to do a deal -- with Time Warner Cable. Why not bring together the two largest pay-TV providers that serve New York, he asked.

The other CEOs...

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