NCTA Eyes Diversity Push

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The National Cable Television Association will fund a major
initiative to promote diversity within the ranks of cable's management.

The NCTA will use resources from industry groups to develop
strategies for hiring and retaining more minority and female management and nonmanagement
employees.

The new initiative, which the NCTA board approved last
month, will be the most extensive industrywide effort yet to place more minorities and
women in the cable industry, said Leo J. Hindery Jr., president of AT&T Broadband
& Internet Services (formerly Tele-Communications Inc.) and of the NCTA board.

But even as details are being ironed out, some executives
are already questioning the industry's motive, saying that the diversity initiative
is more politically motivated than a genuine effort to increase minority and female
participation.

The NCTA will fund the initiative, although it is unclear
how much money the group has set aside. Industry sources, however, said the association
will invest around $200,000 per year for the three-year push.

Also unclear is exactly how the NCTA is planning to use the
funds, as well as the resources of the cable organizations. The initiative will include
Women in Cable and Telecommunications, the National Association of Minorities in
Communications, The Walter Kaitz Foundation and Cable Positive, as well as the NAACP.

Industry sources said some of the money would go toward
developing a comprehensive job bank, as well as other employment-related projects, which
NAMIC would most likely spearhead with MSOs.

Also, the NCTA is expected to fund a major research study
to probe the industry's record on diversity issues.

"The NCTA will devote a significant amount of money
over several years to a continuing effort focused on increasing job availability for
minorities and women, as well as supporting various projects such as [NAMIC's]
urban-affairs conferences," Hindery said. "It's the most responsive and
extensive effort for diversity within the industry's history."

Many of the organizations' executives were not clear
on their roles, but each nevertheless endorsed the initiative.

"We are aware of the initiative, and we're
interested in any industrywide initiative that promotes diversity," said Susan Adams,
president of WICT. "There aren't enough opportunities for women and minorities
within the industry … we know that it will take time and hard work."

"Anything that the industry is doing concerning
diversity that Cable Positive can assist in, we would be happen to be involved with,"
said Molly Padian, president of the industry's AIDS-awareness organization.

NAMIC president Joe Lawson said he hopes that the coalition
will unite the industry to deal with the critical issue of diversity.

A 1997 Federal Communications Commission cable-employment
report revealed that while minority employment increased slightly, only 29.1 percent of
industry employees are minorities, and only 20 percent hold full-time jobs.

"The goal of this promising coalition is to make sure
that we see progress in all levels of the industry for all people," Lawson said.
"If the industry can pull from its full range of talent, it will give itself a leg up
on its competitors in reaching the many diverse areas of the country with its
products."

The role of the NAACP, the 90-year-old civil-rights
organization, is also unclear. Hindery said he has met extensively with NAACP board
chairman and veteran civil-rights leader Julian Bond about incorporating the
organization's efforts within the diversity initiative.

Representatives from the NAACP could not be reached for
comment at press time.

Hindery has been a very vocal proponent of diversity issues
in recent years. He and several other industry executives were somewhat critical last year
of the Walter Kaitz Foundation and its efforts to recruit, place and retain minorities in
middle- and upper-management positions.

"The industry tries hard and does a good job, but you
can always do a better job," Hindery said. "I want the industry to reflect the
society as a whole."

But some industry executives questioned whether the NCTA
initiative would make a major difference.

"If [the industry] is going to make a real commitment
to truly diversify its ranks, then it's going to take more than a few thousand
dollars from the NCTA to make it effective," one MSO executive said. "It's
going to have to be a truly unified effort, reaching into each level of the cable networks
and MSOs."

"We think that the programs that the NCTA will
initiate are good first steps," Lawson added. "But we don't think that any
journey can be complete with just one step. There needs to be a significant focus on
extensive development, and on the executive and ownership levels, as well."

Some industry executives also questioned whether the NCTA
move was politically motivated and appropriately timed to improve the industry's
image in the wake of increased government scrutiny.

But Hindery said the initiative was made necessary by the
need to bring about a more diverse work force within the cable industry.

"This isn't about any negatives, but about a plus
for the industry," Hindery said. "Simply, it's the right thing to do."

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