Vanguard Award for Science & Technology


a temporary gig.

Nearly 30 years later, the “temp job” has become a calling. Fawaz, as chief
technology officer of Charter Communications, today is among the most influential and respected cable-technology executives in the business — and
this year’s recipient of the Vanguard Award for Science & Technology.

Fawaz is “one of the strongest, most knowledgeable, most approachable,
level-headed, down-to-earth technologists in the business,” said
Chris Bowick, former chief technology officer of Cox Communications,
who currently heads up his own consulting firm, The Bowick Group.

According to Bowick, Fawaz has “had a tremendous impact on every
technology introduced in this industry in the last 20 years [or so].”

Fawaz almost turned a different corner— in fact, he originally wanted
to get into the satellite business.

In the early 1980s, Fawaz studied satellite-transmission technologies
as an electrical-engineering student at California State University
Long Beach. “It was the height of the defense industry,” he said. “I
was really hoping to join an aerospace company.”

Fawaz, then a Lebanese citizen who had moved to the U.S. in 1979,
was waiting to get security clearance to be able to work in the defense
industry. Instead, Fawaz ended up taking a job as a design engineer at
Times Mirror Cable, where he was hired to write a software program
to automate radio-frequency design work.

“People were doing design by hand when I joined, using HP calculators,”
he recalled.

He later worked for Continental Cablevision as vice president of
engineering for the Western region, then moved on to MediaOne
and Pilot House Ventures before running Charter Communications’
Northwest region.

Over that time, Fawaz participated in cable’s first wave of major upgrades,
from 330 Megahertz to 550 MHz in the 1980s. In the 1990s, the
industry adopted the hybrid fiber-coax network architecture to deliver
even more bandwidth to the home.

Today, Charter is delivering 60-Mbps broadband, with even higher
speeds to come in the future. “The most interesting thing to me is
how, as an industry, we continue to transform ourselves,” Fawaz said.
“When we reach a peak, we think can’t go further anymore, and then
we keep extending ourselves.”

Last year, Charter emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. To Fawaz,
the financial reorganization wasn’t a hindrance. The biggest difference,
he said, has been that peers like Comcast and Time Warner
Cable (through their investment in Clearwire), as well as Cox and Cablevision
Systems, have taken more aggressive approaches on wireless
strategies that require sizable capital investments.

“Our technical challenges are no different from other MSOs,” Fawaz

Executives who know Fawaz say the situation illustrates his grace
under pressure.

“He’s maintained this very calm, professional demeanor in the middle
of these challenging times,” said Mike Pohl, CEO of online video
service Jinni Media, who has known Fawaz for at least 15 years. “There
are very few people who could continue to keep his team in place, and
they continue to excel.”

Coincidentally, before Fawaz returned to Charter in March 2006 as
CTO, he served in the same role at Adelphia Communications, which
itself was emerging from bankruptcy in the early 2000s.

Fawaz, though, sees more differences than similarities between
Adelphia and Charter. “Adelphia was much more of a challenging situation.
They were at the tail end of upgrading their networks,” he said.

At Charter, his main objectives have been to achieve more scale,
such as launching telephone service across the MSO’s footprint, and
improving operational efficiencies by consolidating on common billing
and provisioning platforms. “Now we have the foundations to build
on,” Fawaz said.

Over the next few years, Fawaz sees Charter and other operators
building on top of DOCSIS 3.0, to expand commercial services and
take advantage of the convergence of video and data platforms.

Charter expects to have upgraded more than 50% of its footprint to
DOCSIS 3.0 by the end of 2010 and also is focused on completing the
rollout of switched digital video. “Eventually, you’ll see 3DTV moving
over SDV,” Fawaz said.

Fawaz, 47, lives near Denver in Parker, Colo., but travels extensively
with his family. Recent destinations include Lebanon, where he still
has family, Taiwan, Japan, China and Europe.

In addition to heading Charter’s technology strategy and operations,
Fawaz is an active participant with other cable organizations. One of
his industry roles is chairman of CableLabs’ Technical Advisory Committee,
which serves as the liaison between the R&D consortium and
the operators’ CTOs.

“Marwan thinks things through and has the kind of perspective that
I find very, very valuable,” CableLabs CEO Paul Liao said. “He has a
great way of working with all those opinions and more rapidly coming
to industry consensus.”