Washington -- Robert J. Sachs, a veteran cable lawyer and
consultant, is the new president and CEO of the National Cable Television Association -- a
move expected to assure stability at the trade association during a period of rapid
consolidation and frontal regulatory challenges.
Sachs, 50, a Boston-based consultant with more than two
decades of cable experience, was the first and, really, only choice of the MSO-dominated
search committee headed by Cox Communications Inc. president and CEO James O. Robbins,
sources told Multichannel News last week.
Robbins' group, however, did look over two former members
of the House -- Iowa Republican Tom Tauke, senior vice president of government relations
at Bell Atlantic Corp., and Ohio Democrat Dennis Eckart, a lawyer based here whose name
surfaced during the last search for an NCTA president in 1993.
Sachs' appointment was scheduled to be announced at NCTA
headquarters here Tuesday (July 13), but the date was changed to today (July 12) after his
decision to take the job was disclosed on Multichannel News' Web site last
Sachs and the NCTA were contacted for comment, but both
Sachs is replacing Decker Anstrom, who is leaving Aug. 1 to
become president and CEO of The Weather Channel. Sachs, who needs to finish ongoing
projects, is not expected to begin work at the association until after Labor Day.
The NCTA presidency is one the highest-paying lobbying
posts among trade organizations that are required to disclose the income of their
presidents under federal income-tax rules. Although terms of Sachs' deal were not
disclosed, he will probably be paid close to Anstrom's $822,000 annual salary.
Industry officials warmly greeted Sachs' selection.
"Assuming it is true, I am delighted to work with
Robert and that the NCTA has chosen someone from the industry with such a keen grasp of
the issues. He can hit the ground running," Cable and Telecommunications Association
for Marketing president Char Beales said.
Sheila Mahony, executive vice president of communications,
government and public affairs at Cablevision Systems Corp., said the choice of Sachs
"couldn't be better news," adding that he is "creative, thoughtful,
savvy." As a private consultant, Sachs helped to craft a franchise renewal for
Cablevision in Boston.
Sachs was senior vice president of corporate and legal
affairs at Continental Cablevision Inc. and MediaOne Group Inc., but he quit in September
1997 after 18 years, shortly after U S West Media Group CEO Chuck Lillis insisted on
moving the MSO's Boston-based executive team to Denver. U S West bought Continental in
The Denver decision triggered an exodus of former
Continental executives from MediaOne -- most notably CEO Amos Hostetter, who will be
returning to the industry in a leadership role as vice chairman of AT&T Broadband
& Internet Services after AT&T Corp. completes its pending purchase of MediaOne.
In 1998, Sachs established his own consulting firm,
Continental Consulting Group, with former MediaOne colleague Robert Stengel, working from
the same Boston office building that once housed the 150-member Continental executive
At Continental, Sachs engineered the first "social
contract" between a Federal Communications Commission that was eager to process a
huge backlog of rate complaints and a cable company that wanted the necessary regulatory
certainty to begin upgrading systems.
Under the 1995 FCC deal, Continental agreed to spend $1.3
billion over five years and to pay $9.5 million in refunds, while the commission, in turn,
agreed to settle 377 pending rate cases.
After Continental brought the cable properties of the
Providence Journal Co., the contract was modified to raise the upgrade total to $1.7
billion and to include free Internet access for schools.
In hindsight, social contracts such as the ones signed by
Continental and Time Warner Cable look like smart moves by cable operators, which have
seen their private- and public-asset values soar in conjunction with the investment in
As a consultant over the past 18 months, Sachs also
assisted the NCTA in its consolidation with the Cable Telecommunications Association
(CATA), which became effective June 30.
"Robert is a known quantity to the industry, with
great federal and state experience. He has literally been in the trenches," said John
Evans, an NCTA board member for 17 years and a Falcon Communications Inc. board member.
Before joining Continental, Sachs was a Capitol Hill aide,
joining the staff of Rep. Charles Goodell (R-N.Y.) in 1969 and, later, the staff of Rep.
Tim Wirth (D-Colo.), who served on the House Communications Subcommittee.
Other government posts included a full-time consulting
position with the Carter White House's Office of Telecommunications Policy from 1977
through 1978. From 1978 through 1979, he was legislative counsel to the National
Telecommunications and Information Administration, a division of the Commerce Department.