The Five Spot: Matt Polka, President and CEO, ACA Connects


Favorite streamed shows?Bosch, Jack Ryan (Amazon Prime); Mindhunter, Lost in Space (Netflix). Plus a lot of Pittsburgh hockey on the DVR.

Favorite music group? Electric Light Orchestra

Destination on your bucket list? Australia, New Zealand, and the “old country” (Poland and Eastern Europe, or Western Russia, to research my roots).

Book on your nightstand? Anything by Robert B. Parker.

Memorable meal? Bean burritos and french fries at the Wings Olé in Morgantown, W. Va.

Matt Polka, president of ACA Connects, the trade group representing small to medium-sized independent cable companies, made a tough call recently. It canceled its annual Washington, D.C., policy summit, which would have taken place this week, out of concern for members traveling amid the coronavirus crisis. The summit is popular with cable operators partly because it includes visits to Capitol Hill to meet directly with elected officials and committee and regulatory staffers. B+C senior content producer, Washington, John Eggerton caught up with Polka to ask about that decision and about recent big wins for smaller operators.

What was the tipping point in deciding to postpone the summit? It was talking to members and sensing what they were thinking. We started to see more evidence of the seriousness and uniqueness of this virus, including the FCC’s decision to limit attendance at outside events. We also had a lot of intel that offices were going to be closed. It became clear that there wasn’t going to be an opportunity to do what we do, which is lobby and advocate. In a practical sense, it was ‘will there be anyone there to meet with?’ and the answer was ‘no.’

Given the coronavirus, it would seem to be important to be in the business of connecting and entertaining people remotely? We know this virus could change how we do business and how we work and connect, which means putting a premium on the broadband internet service our members provide. If it wasn’t vital before, which we know it was, it is that much more vital now.

Do you have any issues with how the FCC is handling the C-band spectrum auction? The issue became more important to our members than we expected it to be. It has taken a lot of significant advocacy, probably one of our biggest projects in terms of time and expense, at the FCC. But we are very pleased where the FCC came out with a public auction as well as to take into account the transition costs.

What is the effect of the STELAR sunset and associated bills on your members? What was achieved, that we fought for and won, was huge. That [win] was extending good-faith [retrans bargaining] to buying groups, and in this case our members’ buying group, the National Cable Television Cooperative, which means that NCTC will have the ability to negotiate with the top broadcast groups in the country, and if NCTC chooses to negotiate with one of those groups, they can’t say no.

Summarize what you would have told your members at the conference? First, I wanted to say thank you for what Congress did passing the Television Viewer Protection Act to extend good faith to buying groups. And, maybe in a related way, we wanted to say, ‘We’ll keep you posted.’

The current retransmission-consent cycle ends in 2020. By year-end, our members will probably be renegotiating close to three-quarters of their existing retransmission-consent agreements. We were going to pledge to keep them posted throughout the year where problems would be. Third, we wanted to thank them for being mindful of the C-band issue [the FCC wants to sell the C-band spectrum, used by satellite firms to deliver TV networks for 5G wireless use], which is at the FCC, but there has been some movement on Capitol Hill. Finally, we wanted to talk about specifics with members preparing to come with stories about how broadband deployed in their communities is making a difference, underscoring the vital nature of smaller providers. And last, it is all about relationships, making sure lawmakers know who our members are and that they are a resource to be used.