New faces at top of NCTA

NCTA is taking a raft of new senior staffers to its annual convention this year. Executive Vice President Peggy Binzel, Vice President for Communications David Beckwith and Vice President for Public Affairs Jim Ewalt represent several shifts in the organization.

First, Binzel, who previously ran News Corp.'s Washington office, shares leadership duties with NCTA President Robert Sachs. "Robert's the boss, but it's a collaborative effort between the two of us," she explains.

Binzel has strong ties to Capitol Hill Republicans and was formerly a staff counsel for House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Jack Fields (R-Texas), who retired in 1996.

Sachs took over the organization's top spot last September, after Decker Anstrom left to run The Weather Channel in Atlanta.

He initially filled NCTA's No. 2 position with David Krone, whose strongest ties were not to the Hill but to Leo J. Hindery Jr., then president of AT & T Broadband and Internet Services. When Hindery left AT & T last summer, resurfacing as president of San Francisco-based telecommunications firm Global Crossing, Krone left to rejoin him after only five months at the association.

Sachs lost no time recruiting Binzel, in whom he has so much faith that he had recommended her for the top job before taking it himself last summer.

"There are so many things that go on within the NCTA that you need to have different people responsible for different projects and different things," Sachs says. "It's a matter of who has the time and who has the subject-matter expertise."

Therefore, Binzel will likely stick with the issues she knows well, particularly copyright and programming, while Sachs himself focuses on business and operations issues.

He has plenty of experience running a cable company, having come to the NCTA after two decades as Amos Hostetter's right-hand man at Continental Cablevision in Boston.

Meanwhile, Sachs has reorganized NCTA's public affairs department, bringing in a new staff to run it. Beckwith, formerly press secretary for George W. Bush's presidential campaign, is handling media relations. Ewalt, who spent 12 years at the Cable Telecommunications Association (CATA) before it merged with NCTA last year, oversees all of the community-outreach efforts.

Those two departments had previously been one under Torie Clarke and then Josie Martin, both of whom have moved on to other jobs.

According to Sachs, NCTA will be focusing more on policy and less on association-driven outreach programs. To that end, Ewalt is reviewing all NCTA's public-relations programs, such as the On-Time Guarantee and an initiative to wire all schools and libraries for high-speed Internet access.

"The big challenge," he says, "is to figure out what the issues will be and then stay ahead of them."

With the consolidation of the cable industry into several large companies, Sachs says, most of NCTA's member companies already have their own sophisticated outreach programs. So NCTA will spend more of its time working to develop programs its member companies can use and adapt to their own needs..