WASHINGTON D.C. -- Oracle Industry Connect 2015 -- US politicians have trained us not to expect direct answers to direct questions. So it was interesting to hear Rajeev Chand of Rutberg & Co. challenge an FCC commissioner, a Dish network exec and the head of Google Fiber to give true or false answers to a series of controversial questions -- and actually get them to do it.
Chand, managing director and head of research of Rutberg & Co. , interviewed Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , Kevin Lo, general manager of Google Fiber Inc. , and Vivek Khemka, senior VP of product management at Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) as part of the Communications Sector general session here Wednesday. He launched each of two sessions -- one with Clyburn and one with the other two -- with a series of rapid-fire questions that revealed the following:
- Clyburn considers HBO comedy host John Oliver's contribution to the net neutrality debate to be "significant" but not "undue." In case you missed it, here is what Oliver said to get millions of (my comment: uninformed) Americans to ask the FCC to implement net neutrality.
- The commissioner and former interim FCC chair believes the net neutrality ruling will stand up to court challenges. In later discussion, she added that she doubts it will be rolled back, even if the GOP regains the White House in 2016. On the latter point, Clyburn says that's a long, complex process -- apparently she doesn't think the Republicans have it in them to make the change. I'm not sure I agree.
- The planned 2016 blockbuster auction of 600MHz of wireless spectrum formerly used for broadcast TV will go ahead on time, Clyburn said -- without serious limitations on what AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless can do.
- Dish's Khemka said Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s version of OTT, known as Apple TV, won't be disruptive in the short term, only because there isn't enough bandwidth to make it viable.
- The average US pay-TV consumer wants to cut the cord, but probably won't really save that much money doing so, said Khemka. Later, he explained that money not spent on paying for content will be spent instead for better broadband speeds.
- To the statement "Dish knows what it wants to do with its spectrum but just isn't telling anyone," Khemka paused briefly, then said "False," to laughter from the audience and Chand. Sadly, he never elaborated. Dish was a top bidder in the recent AWS spectrum auction. (See Hey Big Spenders! AT&T, Dish & VZ Splash Cash on Spectrum.)
- Khemka also paused at the statement from Chand that Dish and T-Mobile would make great partners. At Chand's urging, he then passed on commenting.
- Google Fiber GM Lo turned thumbs down on Netflix paying ISPs for interconnection or for caching its video content close to the customer. That kind of caching has benefits for both Netflix and ISPs, Lo said, and Google does it for free.
- Google Fiber isn't intended to be about driving gigabit competition or another higher purpose, Lo said. But he dodged the question as to whether Google Fiber has been profitable in Kansas City, the only place where it has a service track record. Lo said Google's management and board is willing to play the long-term game when it comes to investing.
In general, candor was on display in the Oracle general session, but that doesn't mean there weren't any agendas. Commissioner Clyburn clearly was present to defend the net neutrality decision and both Lo and Khemka were very supportive of the over-the-top video model, even as they admitted there are issues around content licensing that can preclude profits -- or at least the level of profitability pay-TV providers expect today.
Khemka was fine with that -- Dish launched SlingTV knowing it could cannibalize Dish revenues from higher tiered video offerings, he said. But better Dish cannibalize its existing revenues than someone else does. (See Sling TV – Like Pay-TV, but Skinnier.)
And that's the kind of candor I can appreciate. It's only unfortunate there wasn't a network service exec on hand to play this public version of truth or dare.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading