MINTZ, LEVIN, COHN, FERRIS,
GLOVSKY & POPEO P.C.
BACK IN 1996, WHEN DANIEL BRENNER WAS INSIDE COUNSEL
and Howard Symons was outside counsel for the-then National Cable
Television Association, the trade group did a “road show” that briefed
cable operators about changes in cable law stemming from the Communications
Act rewrite that year.
Symons was clearly on the same page with the cable industry.
Brenner, a standup comedian when he is not a top cable attorney, recalled
they could just about finish each other’s sentences. “Amazingly
enough, we both gave pretty much the same answers without having
heard each other’s presentations,” according to Brenner.
Symons, the chairman of the communications practice at Washington,
D.C., law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky and Popeo, remains
the NCTA’s go-to guy on the outside. This week he receives the Vanguard
Award for Associates & Affiliates from the NCTA at The Cable Show in
Los Angeles. The award goes to a lawyer, or broker, or banker, consultant
or other individual considered “indispensable” to the cable business.
“In some ways he is the quintessential cable lawyer,” said Brenner,
who is now a partner at Hogan Lovells.
NCTA president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow said the “indispensable”
part is right, but “associate” is something of a misnomer. “Howard
might as well be a full-time member of the NCTA staff ,” he said. “He
is very often somebody I talk to at 7:30 in the morning, and there are
quite a few nights when I am talking to him at 11 p.m.”
Symons is a jack-of-all-legal-trades for NCTA, and apparently a master-
of-all, whether it is advising McSlarrow and NCTA’s legal team,
helping draft legislation, or taking on the government in the muchin-
the-news BitTorrent case involving Comcast and the Federal Communications
Fittingly, Symons has been in the vanguard of key cable issues, from
Brand X to program access, and just about everything in between.
“I have had the opportunity to work with the association on a wide
range of issues in pretty much every forum in which those issues come
up,” said Symons, fresh from debating must-carry at a recent Washington
forum. “Including telecommunications, broadband, must-carry,
privacy, open access, forced access, and everywhere from the Hill
to state legislatures. I have appeared on behalf of NCTA in front of the
Fresno City Council and the [U.S. Court of Appeals for the] Ninth Circuit,
so it runs the gamut.”
When McSlarrow took over the NCTA in 2005, it was Symons who
helped bring him up to speed. “When I came on board, one of my first
staff meetings was: ‘OK, I know nothing about this. Who can take
two hours and teach me everything I need to know?’ Everybody said:
“It is both the work that he does as a legislative counsel in drafting
legislation and just providing wise counsel on strategy,” McSlarrow
said. “And, of course, there are the actual filings at the FCC and litigation
work when we actually end up going to court.”
When Congressional committees are working on bills, Symons “is
particularly adept at getting useful and clear language to staffers for
their consideration,” Brenner said.
Symons came well prepared for tackling other top legal minds,
armed with degrees from Yale University and Harvard University law
school. Communications law found him, rather than the other way
around. “I had no background in telecommunications at law school.
There was only course in broadcast law when I was there, and I didn’t
Symons’s first job out of law school was working for an iconic battler
of corporate interests: Ralph Nader.
“I remember when Howard worked for Ralph Nader, and [Symons]
was on our side,” said Andrew Schwartzman, president of Media Access
Project. “I have known him for close to 30 years, and he is uncommonly
talented and an extremely eff ective advocate.”
As a lawyer for Congress Watch, the lobbying arm of Nader’s Public
Citizen, Symons took some advice from Nader that would eventually
lead to his role as key counsel for the cable industry.
“It was around the time that the House Commerce Committee was
considering the first version of the telecom bill rewrite,” said Symons.
“I had no background in telecommunications at law school. There was
only a course in broadcast law when I was there, and I didn’t take it.
Nader asked me to get involved and he opened a lot of doors for me to
learn from a lot of people.”
Nader also gave what Symons calls a great piece of advice. “The
public-interest movement then was focused on the Fairness Doctrine
and broadcast issues, but nobody was focused on telecommunications.
He said that is where the future is and the public-interest
people need to be involved in that.”
Symons left Nader to join then-House Telecommunications Subcomittee
chairman Tim Wirth (D-Colo.). “I spent four years there
through the 1984 Cable Act and the AT&T divestiture, which occupied
most of my time,” he said.
In 1985, he made the move to Mintz Levin, where, in 1988, then-
NCTA president Decker Anstrom asked Symons to do some work for
the association. “The rest is history.”
His favorite part of the job? “Lawyers tend to get pigeonholed. NCTA
has been generous enough to let me both argue their cases in court,
do their drafting on the Hill and even go over to the FCC. That, I think,
has been a real joy and a delight in working for them.”