Len Pitcock on the Success of Lines Converging in Telecommunications

Len Pitcock is the incoming chairman of the Arkansas Cable Telecommunications Association.

Before joining Cox Communications in 2008, Pitcock was executive director of the Arkansas Cable Telecommunications Association. His duties included lobbying state and federal lawmakers on behalf of the cable industry. He also has served on the boards of Connect Arkansas, the Arkansas Broadband Advisory Council and the Arkansas Society of Professional Lobbyists.

Pitcock has a degree in political science from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Q: Cox is on our annual list of the largest local exchange carriers, but it has traditionally been a cable TV provider rather than a telephone company. Describe Cox’s business in Arkansas.

A: Cox Communications has served the state for almost 15 years now. We are Arkansas’ largest traditional cable provider and have become the state’s fourth-largest phone company, having launched that product only seven years ago. Our “footprint” today is largely made up of the 3rd Congressional District. We serve both residential and business customers with a wide variety of products that are delivered across our state-of-the-art broadband network.

“Convergence” is a word we’ve been hearing in telecommunications for several years. Has it arrived?

Absolutely. In recent years the lines between the traditional wireline, wireless and cable companies have become virtually nonexistent. This is a result of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as Congress encouraged competition for telecommunications services among all of us. That’s how cable providers got into the telephone business, the phone companies got into our business and why wireless technology has grown by leaps and bounds. It’s worked. Today consumers have any number of choices for telephone, video or broadband services outside of the traditional providers of just a few years ago. There was a time when we considered satellite our biggest threat; today, we consider Netflix and Hulu just as much of a competitor as the traditional telecom or satellite companies.

What is your industry doing to hold onto customers who have so many delivery choices?

I think the entire wireline telephone industry is certainly seeing cancellations regardless of the provider, but they do appear to be leveling off. Broadband subscriptions, on the other hand, are growing quickly. Bundling of products is certainly an avenue we’re all using to retain customers.

What are the biggest challenges Cox faces going forward? Are they the same as your competitors?

Regulatory uncertainty is a concern for all of us. The Telecommunications Act created an environment where competitors are being regulated very differently based on their historic products. We took steps during the recent legislative session to address bringing regulatory parity to the video market, but regulation is still all over the board for many products. Broadband technology is largely unregulated, which is one of the keys to its success.

I think Sen. Mark Pryor’s recent selection to chair the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology & the Internet is huge for Arkansas. He’s mentioned that there has been discussion about a possible rewrite of the Telecommunications Act, but I’d have to defer to his office on whether that’s something we’ll see soon. We’ve also seen attempts to create government networks to compete directly with private sector companies. I think many would agree that creating government-subsidized competition is poor public policy that creates a chilling effect on sectors of private enterprise critical to healthy local economies.