Telecom Trade CEOs: ACA Connects' Matt Polka

Featuring Matt Polka, president and CEO, ACA Connects – America’s Communications Association
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Matt Polka, ACA

Matt Polka, president and CEO, ACA Connects

For the next several articles, “Mixed Signals” reaches out to the Telecom Trade Group CEOs in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere, to find out more about them and their constituencies. Not surprisingly, the longest-serving among our group of telecom execs is also the one to start us off this week. That person is Matt Polka, whose comments below will be followed in the weeks ahead by offerings from the CEOs of the National Cable Telecommunications (NCTA), the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), and the Fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (FISPA).

Below is an edited transcript of Matt Polka's answers to our 20 questions:

Jimmy Schaeffler: What, in bullet points, are ACA Connects’ core duties and responsibilities?

Matt Polka:

  • ACA Connects represents more than 700 smaller and medium-sized, independent companies that provide broadband, phone and video services to nearly eight million customers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America.
  • ACA Connects actively participates in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C.
  • ACA Connects’ members work together to advance the interests of their customers and communities, and to ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their business.

JS: Within that realm, what are your individual core duties and responsibilities, as ACA Connects President + CEO?

MP:

  • Lead in the creation of public policy positions.
  • Drive the effort to see that ACA Connects’ policy positions prevail.
  • Lead the ACA Connects staff and outside lawyers and consultants.
  • Consult with, and receive input from, all ACA Connects Board and Executive Committee members, and assure that there is a solid connection between public policy goals and their business priorities.
  • Keep current with industry and business trends.
  • Keep in touch with industry peers and other trade associations.
  • Spend time across the country visiting with members and speaking to them in events for their companies and state associations.
  • Work in the development of broadening ACA Connects’ digital and social communications to “Connect and Communicate” in every way on behalf of our members and association.

JS: What is the size of ACA Connects and its core staff positions?

MP:

  1. Matthew Polka, President & CEO
  2. Robert Shema, EVP Member Services & Finance/Chief of Staff
  3. Ross Lieberman, SVP of Government Affairs
  4. Ted Hearn, VP of Communications
  5. Brian Hurley, VP of Regulatory Affairs
  6. Stacey D. Leech, Senior Director of Meetings & Industry Affairs
  7. Karen D. Yochum, Senior Director of Administration & Finance
  8. Matthew Maraist, Manager of Digital Communications
  9. Tomeika Slappy, Executive Assistant
  10. Christina Fidrocki, Administrative Assistant

JS: Where is ACA Connects located and how best contacted?

MP: ACA Connects is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Our address and phone number are:

ACA Connects – America’s Communications Association
Seven Parkway Center | Suite 755 | Pittsburgh, PA 15220-3704
Phone: 412-922-8300 | Fax: 412-922-2110
Email contact: thearn@acaconnects.org

JS: How much of your work time is spent on the road versus in the office?

MP: I would say 30% in the office and 70% on the road.

JS: Which are the places or types of places that you visit the most as part of the job of ACA Connects President + CEO?

MP:

  • I visit with many national and state associations and at members’ companies, which takes me all over the country.
  • ACA Connects also holds about four or five regional meetings to update members in smaller gatherings. ACA Connects members enjoy those forums because they get a chance to speak to ACA Connects staff at several points during the day, on an issue-by-issue basis.
  • We also hold our signature event, our ACA Connects Summit, in Washington, D.C., every March to take our members to Capitol Hill and at the FCC to lobby and share their concerns.
  • Finally, every year we co-produce the Independent Show, with NCTC-the National Cable Television Cooperative, which is our joint annual members’ meeting and tradeshow.

JS: What are your typical duties when you get there?

MP: ACA Connects has a broad public policy portfolio. ACA Connects members place a high value on quality information. When I speak to associations and individual members who attend the meetings, my purpose is to describe what ACA Connects is doing in Washington, D.C., as clearly as possible and to explain why we take the positions we do and how we intend to achieve our goals. ACA Connects members are busy people. They are totally focused on their jobs, with little time to stay current with all the twists and turns that accompany policy debates in Washington, D.C. ACA Connects members trust us to act in their best interests and find the path to success.

JS: What would you say overall is the ACA Connects President + CEO most important role?

MP: My most important role is to represent our members in every way to emphasize the critical importance of their companies in solving the broadband and communications needs of their smaller, rural, and competitive towns and communities. Whether I’m speaking across the country, tweeting about our members, meeting with Members of Congress and the FCC, appearing on C-SPAN’s “The Communicators,” being quoted in an article or many, many other things, it’s ALL about our members and telling everyone how they are committed to their communities to meet their communications needs.

JS: How do you spend the majority of your time?

MP: “Connecting and Communicating” in dozens of ways to build and strengthen relationships that help our members and help our association win on policy matters on their behalf in Washington. Whether answering email and members’ questions, phone calls, webinars, in-person meetings, talking to reporters, conference calls on issues, or preparing for events, the job is all about relationships, and putting relationships first. That goes for our team, too, where it’s my job to lead, encourage, and coach them in ways that help them grow and succeed for our members. The job is not about winning first; it’s focused on putting people first. If you put people first and really care about relationships, the winning will come.

JS: Which duties would you deem most important?

MP: Not just for me, but I think all of us at ACA Connects would say that the most important duty we have is to demonstrate an undying commitment to our members above all else, and to have our work on their behalf reflect character, fairness, a willingness to work with everyone, integrity, openness, and thought leadership.

JS: What are your favorite experiences (and memories) coming from your role as the ACA Connects President + CEO?

MP: I love to be up on Capitol Hill lobbying and meeting with congressional staffs and their bosses. I’ve always been a political geek and walking around the halls of Congress has always been a joy. I also love traveling, flying, seeing new parts of the U.S. and visiting with our members. We live in such a wonderful country, and I am always so appreciative of this and seeing the “local culture” of Americans, whether from Alaska to the bayous of Louisiana, and to the rocky coasts of Maine. I also really enjoy communicating by Twitter. Digital media, in general, fascinates me, because as an old newspaper reporter, I know that digital is the way we must get out our message in every way if we are to communicate effectively and reach the people who need to hear our members’ messages. As for memories, there are too many to count, but what they all involve is people who made it a memory. People first!

JS: What are your least favorite experiences (and memories) as ACA Connects president and CEO?

MP: As in any position, there are definitely some, but there also is so much to do moving forward that I choose not to dwell on them much at all. The good FAR outweighs the bad, that’s for sure!

JS: What are a few BIG Time, bullet-point type legal, regulatory, and policy issues ahead for you and ACA Connects?

MP:

  • Net Neutrality/Title II regulation of broadband ISPs
  • Renewal of Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR)
  • Reallocation of the C-Band spectrum
  • Internet privacy
  • Nexstar-Tribune TV station merger
  • Apollo-Cox TV station acquisition
  • Sinclair purchase of Disney RSNs

JS: What are a couple of BIG-Time opportunities for ACA Connects and/or the greater broadband industry?

MP: Key provisions of STELAR expire in 2019, allowing ACA Connects to include reforms to the broken retransmission consent rules, that TV station use to stage massive signal blackouts as leverage to drive up the cost of Pay-TV. In 2014, ACA Connects was successful in obtaining provisions from Congress, which banned non-commonly owned TV stations from jointly negotiating retransmission consent with MVPDs.

C-Band policy changes could result in the creation of a government-funded fiber network, that ACA Connects members will join to receive video programming from wholesale vendors that traditionally rely on satellite delivery.

JS: Looking back at your many years as ACA Connects President + CEO, what has been your biggest challenge?

MP: Lawmakers and regulators need quality information on which to base decisions. With that in mind, I have stressed the importance of ensuring that our members’ voices are heard in Washington, D.C., loud and clear. It’s very easy for a message to become diluted or drowned out in a crowded regulatory space. It’s a major challenge for the policy preferences of ACA Connects members not only to be heard, but also to be followed. And I think one other major challenge has been just to spend over 26 years to work hard every day to have a seat at the table in Washington and in our industry, where you can never take anything for granted. But, I think our work and our commitment have spoken for themselves, and we are still fighting! I have no experience whatsoever in running an association, but when I was hired I was determined for our association to succeed and increase slowly and steadily, planting firm roots, and being guided every day by doing what was right for our members. That’s still how we operate today.

JS: What in your prior life (before ACA) has been the best, and conversely the worst, event or occurrence in your professional life that taught or impressed a lesson upon you?

MP: The best springs from the worst, and that was working in places with bosses who had no clue how to lead and encourage people to do their best. I can remember bosses back in the 80s and early 90s who were screamers, and I vowed that if ever I had the chance to lead an organization, I would do everything OPPOSITE of what those terrible leaders did. Fortunately, I have been blessed to lead our team and association here at ACA Connects, and we have proven as I said before that when we focus on each other as people and build strong relationships and commitments together, we know we can accomplish anything, and that’s what we do every day. I also try for us every day to disprove the notion that you can’t succeed if you’re nice. We’ve disproved that silly notion and continue to do so!

JS: Tell “Mixed Signals” about your schooling, focusing on important things you learned?

MP:

  • High School — I am eternally grateful to my Mom, who gave me no choice but to take a full year of typing, which was taught in high schools back then! Learning how to type (A S D F J K L ;, etc.) has been the single most practical thing I have ever learned that helped me and my career incredibly. I don’t know if they still teach typing today, but if you master it you will help yourself more than you can ever imagine.
  • College — I was a journalism major in news/editorial (e.g., newspaper writing), and I learned the value of writing, grammar, the English language, and how to quickly and effectively express yourself in words, which is so sorely lacking in today’s business world. I have been amazed how so few people take time to master their writing, especially with the negative image it can project. I also learned in journalism school the incredibly important attributes of fairness, accuracy, impartiality and objectivity, which have helped me in my professional life to see and seek the truth.
  • Law School — I learned among many other things how important it is to be organized in your thinking, how you can be an advocate in your spoken as well as written words, and what a difference critical thinking and argument can make in evaluating professional issues every day. I’m still trying to learn these things!

JS: Who in your professional background has impressed you the most?

MP: Our members at ACA Connects. They are the salt of the earth. They are why we do what we do. We know how much they appreciate our service to them, and we push ourselves even more each day to do more for them. As small businesses, they face incredible challenges every day, ones we can’t even imagine. They are true “plate spinners,” keeping everything moving forward. And it has been my honor to work with our team, to represent this wonderful group of people who are truly making life msrkedly better for their customers and communities.

JS: Who in your personal life has impressed you the most?

MP: In my personal life I have seen many who have truly and selflessly served others in Christian service without regard to their own needs and interests. Whether pastors, missionaries, or service workers in schools, shelters and community programs, I have been amazed by their ability to “consider it all joy” as it says in James 1:2. I believe we all can and should serve in whatever we do, and I try to do that, but I have always been so impressed by those who have been called in full-time ministry. The truth is that I am blessed beyond measure by the death and resurrection of my savior, Jesus Christ, and the salvation He has given to me through my faith and belief in Him. There is nothing I have endured that could ever match His love, grace, mercy and sacrifice for me.

JS: If you could do your professional life all over again, what you change?

MP: Nope, not a thing. The Good Lord has always been faithful to me, so that whenever one door closed, only one door opened, and I know that nothing I have done professionally as a reporter, lawyer, general counsel, and now trade association exec and lobbyist has been an accident. I have been incredibly blessed, and so much more than I have ever deserved.

Jimmy Schaeffler is the chair and CSO of The Carmel Group, a broadband, broadcast, and pay TV/video consultancy. He has spent nearly five decades studying, writing, researching and analyzing, working with every type of player in the space. If you are a small-to-mid-sized operator looking to expand or better understand the industry, and the financing and funding available, feel free to reach out to him at jimmy@carmelgroup.com.

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