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Policy

NCTA's Mr. Right

1/30/2005 7:00 PM Eastern

Washington— The cable industry just joined the Republican revolution.

For as long as anyone can remember, the leader of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association has been a Democrat. But last week, the trade group reached into the ranks of the Bush Administration to find Kyle E. McSlarrow as its new president. He begins March 1.

Elections have consequences, as the McSlarrow appointment seems to suggest. The GOP has won five out of the last seven presidential contests, has controlled the House since 1995 and today has a firm grip on the Senate. Seven of nine Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican presidents.

Things To Do
Get up to speed on cable issues
Fight indecency regulation of cable networks
Block legislation taxing cable broadband revenue
Fight Baby Bell video entry without a franchise
Ensure cable downconversion of DTV signals at headend
Fight FCC's July 2006 ban on integrated cable boxes
Quarterback cable's legal team in Brand X case
The McSlarrow File
A brief bio of NCTA's new chief:
Age: 44 (DOB: June 29, 1960)
Married: Alison McSlarrow
Home: Falls Church, Va.
Current Job: Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Energy
Education: Cornell University, University of Virginia School of Law

When the Motion Picture Association of America last fall named former Democratic Rep. Dan Glickman of Kansas, President Clinton's Agriculture Secretary, as its new president, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) scolded Hollywood for ignoring the fact that the GOP is the producer on the Potomac.

The cable industry, needing to replace current NCTA president Robert Sachs, didn't repeat Hollywood's mistake in selecting McSlarrow, who rose to deputy secretary in the Bush Department of Energy as the last stop in a political career that has included top staff positions with Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), when each was majority leader.

But Time Warner Cable chairman and CEO Glenn Britt, who is also NCTA chairman, said picking McSlarrow was not a deliberate attempt by the trade group to appease the GOP establishment.

“We were looking for the best person we could find,” Britt said in an interview. “I think our issues are generally nonpartisan. Over some period of time, administrations change, so you shouldn't bet just on that.”

The NCTA's goal wasn't just to pick any Republican with a pulse, said Cox Enterprises Inc. senior vice president of public policy Alexander Netchvolodoff. McSlarrow is “very organized, he's a great administrator and has excellent political judgment. What more could you want?” Netchvolodoff said.

PICKED IN NOVEMBER

The NCTA's search committee decided McSlarrow was its choice a few months ago.

“Back in late November, the focus was on McSlarrow. The question was whether you could get him,” a cable-industry source said.

McSlarrow's availability was in doubt because it was unclear whether he would take a job in the energy industry, move up to Energy Secretary, or take a White House post. McSlarrow also wanted to be sure the NCTA job would be a good fit.

“He was careful,” a cable-industry source said. “He wanted to be sure of himself.”

People at the NCTA caught their first glimpse of the new boss last Tuesday.

Just as his appointment was being announced, McSlarrow gathered with about 100 NCTA staff members for a 30-minute session. No plans for a major shakeup were disclosed.

“He has great respect for the people who are here at the NCTA and their accumulated knowledge that he's got to get up to speed on. He certainly has no plans to make big changes,” Britt said.

Sources said on a confidential basis that NCTA executive vice president David Krone was expected to leave the trade group within a few months. But Krone said he's staying put. “My answer is that you are completely off-base,” he said.

McSlarrow, 44, leaves his No. 2 post at Energy in February and will use the interregnum to get up to speed on cable's policy portfolio, as well as to plot strategy for a Congress that seems ready to craft a new telecommunications law that could contain provisions hostile to cable's economic interests.

Cable has other issues. Some lawmakers want to extend indecency laws to the medium, which would mean a ban on profanity and nudity before 10 p.m. Some lawmakers support the broadcast industry's effort to force cable to carry more than one DTV programming service per station.

Cable also might have to turn to Congress to shield customer equipment from unbundling rules imposed by the Federal Communications Commission and might need congressional help if the Supreme Court determines that cable modem service is a telecommunications service subject to open-access requirements.

McSlarrow's first official decision was to meet his new colleagues.

Dressed in a business suit and light-blue tie, he addressed NCTA staff in the company of Britt and two other members of the NCTA search committee that picked him — Landmark Communications Inc. president Decker Anstrom (a past NCTA president) and Michael Willner, vice chairman and CEO of Insight Communications Co. Inc.

Britt declined to discuss McSlarrow's contract, including salary. Sachs earned about $1.3 million per year, making him one of the highest-paid lobbyists in Washington.

“[McSlarrow is] making a serious commitment to the NCTA, but I think it's inappropriate to talk about those details,” Britt said.

QUAYLE CAMPAIGN CHIEF

McSlarrow has friendships across Capitol Hill from his years with Dole and Lott and from a later period when he was chief of staff to late Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.). He also headed former Vice President Dan Quayle's failed presidential run in 2000.

In the House, McSlarrow got to know Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and other leaders on that panel, which has jurisdiction over the Energy Department.

If McSlarrow has a handicap, it's his newness to the industry. But a fresh perspective can offer its own benefits.

“Kyle's lengthy record of leadership, accomplishment and experience as a senior aide in the U.S. Senate and in the administration will benefit our industry as we work with legislators and policy makers to ensure that cable can continue to prosper, grow and compete,” Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement.

The NCTA hired a search firm to vet job candidates once Sachs announced his plans to leave. The industry identifies itself with causes in support of greater workplace diversity, but its selection of McSlarrow kept to the tradition of naming a white male even as it broke with the tradition of naming a Democrat.

“We really were looking for the best person we could have, and we instructed [the search firm] to look for people who were not white men, as well as white men,” Britt said. “At the end of the day, we think we hired the best person we could find.”

NOT TALKING YET

McSlarrow's announcement ended months of speculation about who would fill the vacancy. But it will be a few more weeks before more can be known about him and his ideas for the industry, because last week he declined all interviews.

“The cable industry is providing great benefit to consumers through its quality programming, dynamic new services and superior technology,” McSlarrow said in a joint statement with Britt. “I'm honored to represent the many fine people and companies that comprise the industry, and I'm eager to lead the effort to tell cable's story in Washington.”

McSlarrow won't have a long honeymoon.

The new chief's Senate connections could get tested early because the Senate Commerce Committee, on which Lott serves, is planning to work on overhauling bedrock telecommunications policies.

Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is concerned that the migration of voice and data traffic to the Internet is draining money from the multibillion-dollar program that channels subsidies to rural telephone companies with high fixed costs. Stevens has declared that he wants cable to contribute broadband revenue to the subsidy pool.

The cable industry has agreed in principle to contribute revenue from voice-over-Internet protocol to the program, because cable VoIP calls terminate on phone-company networks. But it has not agreed to contribute a portion of its $10 billion in annual cable-modem access revenue.

No telecom battle on Capitol Hill has ended quickly. They are typically long slogs, with multiple changes made to bills and those measures are always subject to White House veto. Stevens has said he wants to conduct several field hearings around the country, a sign that McSlarrow won't have to enunciate firm policy positions in haste.

At the Energy Department, McSlarrow got high marks for beefing up security at nuclear weapons facilities and negotiating energy legislation, though it died last year over gasoline additives that reduce air pollution but contaminate groundwater if improperly stored.

'HANDS-ON GUY'

“He basically got pretty good marks at DOE as being sort of the real hands-on guy. He was very well-regarded in the energy industry,” said George Lobsenz, editor of The Energy Daily, a Washington, D.C.-based trade publication.

McSlarrow ran for the House from northern Virginia in 1992 and 1994, losing both times to incumbent Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) in bitterly fought contests between ideological polar opposites who clashed over abortion rights and gun control.

McSlarrow was chief of staff to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham before he was named deputy secretary in 2002. Before joining the Bush administration, he was vice president of political and government affairs for Grassroots Enterprise Inc., a political-services marketing firm headed by former Clinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry.

McSlarrow is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Virginia Law School. He was a captain in the U.S. Army, serving as an assistant to the general counsel in the Office of the Army Secretary from 1985-89.

He is married to Alison McSlarrow, a former GOP Senate aide and current lobbyist whose client list has included Microsoft Corp. and Qwest Communications International Inc. The two met when both were Senate aides and live in Falls Church, Va.

Sachs leaves the NCTA on Feb. 28, Britt said.

“Robert has had great success in achieving a favorable regulatory environment for new broadband services,” Britt added. “He has been a true leader of the highest integrity and an effective advocate in helping the cable industry to achieve its public-policy goals. We've valued Robert's help in managing this leadership transition, and we offer him our sincere thanks.”

 

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