Tackling Cable’s Most Complex Issues

NAME: Loretta Polk
TITLE: VP and Associate General Counsel
COMPANY: NCTA – The Internet & Television Association

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Seeing the cable industry reinvent itself and being part of that arc of growth and change, as well as work with the Emma L. Bowen Foundation, D.C. Bar Technology Task Force and the Steering Committe for Arts, Entertainment and Sports Law section, and other philanthropic organizations.

QUOTABLE: “You have to demand excellence from yourself before you demand it from others.”

Loretta Polk had an early interest in communications while attending Rutgers University and later in graduate school at Columbia.

In fact, the native Washingtonian initially thought she would become a journalist. “The way it worked was that you spent the first year at the law school, then you went to the journalism school, then you went back to law school,” she said.

But once she had spent that first year at law school, she did not want to divert from the legal track. “So I decided to postpone it and continued on with my legal studies.” When the journalism school called to ask when she was coming, she decided to stick with law.

She is clearly happy with the path she took.

Polk cut her teeth at a law firm, and always had an interest in policy. “Growing up in Washington maybe had something to do with it,” she said. It was an interest that has been fueled by two former FCC chairmen, Bill Kennard and Michael Powell.

Between private practice and three decades at NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, there was a stint at the State Department. She called that “a little bit of a detour” from her communications track, but a great opportunity to travel, which was one of the big draws. But she said that even there she had an interest in communications and was looking for a way to get into those areas.

Working in an Industry Getting Off the Ground
Meanwhile, Kennard, a good friend and D.C. lawyer — and then-future FCC chairman — called and advised her to that the cable industry was new and different and just getting off the ground. She had done private practice and worked for the government, so it was something new, and in the area she had always been looking to.

“It was a great time to get in on the bottom floor of an industry,” she said.

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Now vice president and associate general counsel of NCTA, Polk spends a lot of time monitoring the federal agencies, then helps make cable’s case to those government officials, with the FCC being a primary focus. Another focus for Polk has been privacy and cybersecurity, which means she has to keep tabs on the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Trade Commission, White House and the Department of Commerce — among many others.

Polk does not like to talk about herself, but others do not share her reticence.

Michael Powell, NCTA president and CEO, said: “Loretta is the kind of person who has gone about her job for years never seeking recognition, but is always there for you and has always done a remarkable job. Loretta is one of the most thoughtful and thorough lawyers I have ever worked with and she tackles some of the most important and complex issues that our industry confronts, including cybersecurity and privacy.”

“Loretta is one of the most reliable and knowledgeable media experts in Washington,” added Adonis Hoffman, formerly chief of staff to FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn. “She is always on top of the issues, and has the rare ability to flow easily from legalese to plain speak on complex matters.”

Polk said another important part of her job is building consensus among a range of companies, large and small.

“Loretta is a real life superhero — a courageous trailblazer for diversity in the cable and telecommunication industry, and an extraordinary regulatory lawyer in the halls of Washington, D.C.,” said Kathy Zachem, executive VP of regulatory and state legislative affairs for Comcast, NCTA’s largest member. “Her insight and skills as an advocate have had a resounding impact on countless policies.”

Asked who helped her along the way, Polk cited Kennard as well as Michael Schooler, NCTA’s VP and deputy general counsel, and BET’s Debra Lee, as well as former NCTA president Decker Anstrom and Powell.

But Polk suggests the door swings both ways. “I really value the opportunity to mentor younger people who want to come into the industry,” she said.

Asked about the role of diversity in the industry, she says that connections she made being on the board of the National Association of Multi-Ethnicity in Communications (NAMIC) gave her a deeper perspective on the business side, rather than the policy side, of the industry from programming to operations to marketing. “Folks in Washington need that perspective,” she said. And she shares Powell’s view that another key to diversity is “just giving people the opportunity to be at the table.”

Finding Role Models Who Set the Tone
Polk said gender has not been an issue in her career path, “in part because NCTA had so many women in leadership positions.” She was hired by Brenda Fox, then-head of legal and policy for NCTA, who Polk said cultivated the women attorneys. “I was fortunate in that regard in that we had women leaders who set the tone.”

Another woman also set the tone for Polk’s career, her mother, advised that there was no substitute for effort. “You can have all the great connections in the world and have gone to all the great schools,” quoted Polk, “but it still comes down to, have you done the hard work?”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.