LAS VEGAS - In his keynote speech yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show, Comcast Corp.'s Brian L. Roberts said his company had embraced new technology to allow electronics manufacturers to develop interactive devices that work on its 25-million-subscriber cable network.
But hopes Roberts had of pleasing Comcast's - and the cable industry's - biggest foe, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin, were quickly dashed.
Shortly after Roberts' speech ended about 10:15 a.m., Martin said in a panel discussion that the new technology, called tru2way, was a good start but not the final solution.
Martin also criticized Comcast and the cable industry for high rates, and said the FCC would look into complaints that Comcast cuts off customers who send vast amounts of data over their Internet connections.
Comcast and the cable industry have spent tens of millions of dollars and about a decade developing the tru2way technology, which is intended to make it easier for consumers to connect to any cable system. Roberts has personally lobbied government officials to back it, and, on Monday, Comcast announced a new plasma TV from Panasonic Corp. that includes the technology.
Martin said he would like a "more holistic approach" to open technology between cable and electronics companies, one that "would not stifle competition." He indicated that there were "licensing issues" with tru2way and that he would look to the Consumer Electronics Association to help find a solution. The CEA and the cable industry have fought over the standard for years.
Martin's criticism of cable rates - he noted that other telecommunications services have seen price decreases - came in response to a question during the panel discussion.
"I'm doing all I can," he said in a response to a question about getting the cable industry to endorse a pay-per-channel business model. Consumer and decency groups have lobbied the government on that model.
Executives, trade group officials, and FCC observers said they believed the cable-industry opposition to pay-per-channel, or "a la carte," was the root of bad feelings between Comcast and the FCC's Martin.
Roberts' buoyant keynote speech was noteworthy for being the first for a cable-industry executive at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which is being attended by about 140,000 people. Other keynoters this year were the chief executive officers at Intel Corp., General Motors Corp. and Panasonic.
Roberts briefly described for the crowd Comcast's history, beginning with a cable system in Tupelo, Miss., in the early 1960s, where the company broadcast five channels. He then fast-forwarded: Comcast's video-on-demand service to about 15 million digital subscribers has logged six billion video views since 2003, more than iTunes music downloads in the same period, he noted.
Roberts said the cable company would roll out superfast broadband speeds by late 2008 and make available to Internet users an online TV and movie guide called Fancast.com. The Web site includes movie trailers, TV episodes and celebrity photos. It allows viewers to buy movie tickets through Comcast's Fandango service.
Comcast plans to offer more high-definition programs and channels to its digital subscribers this year. The company, Roberts promised, would raise customer service levels. "If we mess up, we fess up," he said.