Robert Sachs, departing president of the National Cable &
Telecommunications Association, scored a big victory in his last full week on
the job. Last week, the FCC for the second time in three years rejected
broadcasters' demand that cable operators be forced to carry each of a
station's six or so digital channels. After a Caribbean vacation with wife
Caroline, Sachs plans to go back to work for Continental Consulting, the cable
advisory service he left in 1999 to run NCTA. His successor at the association,
Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow, takes over March 1. Sachs talked with
B&C's Bill McConnell.
Now that the FCC has ruled in favor of
cable operators, will they now ignore broadcasters' digital
Despite the rhetoric in Washington, there are positive relations between
cable operators and broadcasters in many local communities. The fact than 500
stations' digital signals today are being carried on cable without any
government requirements whatsoever provides pretty strong evidence of that.
Then why has there been this big fight?
Broadcasters have seen this proceeding as a hedge on the future. They
want to hold on to as much bandwidth on cable systems as possible. We've seen
scant evidence that there are truly viable business models for
So what do you think of Verizon and SBC
becoming cable companies?
If Verizon or SBC want to enter this business on terms similar to those
cable operators operate under, that's perfectly fine. Our companies are most
willing to compete. They should be bound by the same rules as us.
What should your replacement worry
It appears the DTV transition issues will move rapidly. That raises
concern about TV-station carriage resurfacing. Also, our industry needs to be
mindful about indecency. Even though the Supreme Court has clearly stated cable
has more free-speech protection than broadcasting, that does not prevent
Congress from enacting legislation. From time to time, Congress enacts laws
that take several years for the courts to review and strike down.
Should cable voluntarily offer
family-themed tiers to ward off legislation or let subscribers pay only for
channels they want?
Those options are not economically viable. Family-friendly networks are
the ones most likely to go under if they're not bundled with more-popular
ones. Instead, our industry needs to devote even more resources to telling
customers how to block the channels they don't want coming into their
The trade press has reported complaints
that you have not stood up for cable forcefully enough in
Often times, those who are critical are less informed about the
strategies our board has adopted. I'm sure there is basis for criticism, but
a lot of the barbs are out of ignorance. Looking at the last 5½ years,
we've accomplished everything we set out to do. We preserved rate
deregulation. We've created a deregulated environment for high-speed Internet
service and voice-over-Internet. We've had two different FCC lineups vote our
way on digital-TV carriage. The Supreme Court saved cable operators $1 billion
a year on the fees we pay for attaching our wires to utility poles. We're
rolling out DTV in top markets.
Have you ever considered buying a
I guess I can tell you now. I was an early DirecTV customer. We had a
summer house in New Hampshire, and cable wasn't available there. The picture
occasionally froze during thunderstorms, but otherwise I was a very satisfied
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