Interview Date: Friday September 29, 2000
Interview Location: Atlanta, GA
Interviewer: Tom Southwick
Collection: Hauser Collection
SOUTHWICK: It’s September 29, 2000. I’m Tom Southwick and this is part of the Oral History Program of the National Cable Television Center and Museum. We’re here at the offices of the Weather Channel in Atlanta, Georgia, with the Weather Channel President and CEO Decker Anstrom. Decker, if you would, can you tell us little bit about your family background, you parents, where they came from. Is Anstrom a Scandinavian name?
ANSTROM: It’s a Swedish name from my father’s side. His parents came from Sweden during World War I. My grandfather came to avoid the Swedish draft for World War I and settled in upper North Dakota during that part of the opening of the century. My father grew up in North Dakota. My mother was a southerner and grew up in the south primarily. Both of them were teachers so I grew up in an environment in which books mattered a lot and school mattered a lot. Ironically in terms of my later career, we never had a television at home when I grew up, partly because of their view that books were the right thing and television wasn’t.
SOUTHWICK: Where and when were you born?
ANSTROM: I was born August 2, 1950 in Conway, South Carolina. Shortly after that we moved to Denver for a couple of years and then to the little town of Lander, Wyoming, up in the middle of the Rockies. I lived later in Oregon and northern Minnesota and North Dakota. My dad had a penchant for organizing teacher unions wherever he was. He always taught in small towns. The general cycle was that he would come in his first year to teach and pledge not to get involved in terms of arguing at the school board about what teachers should be paid. At the end of that year, he’d get involved in organizing a union. The second year he was there would always be the building year. The third year there would be a culmination of getting things worked out and then it was time to move on to the next community. So we moved about every two or three years, never by plan. In terms of the politics of local school boards, it was always best to move on to the next community at that point.
SOUTHWICK: What did your parents teach?
ANSTROM: My father taught math and science. My mother taught English.
SOUTHWICK: At what level?
ANSTROM: Both in high school. My mother was more of a frustrated English teacher, I think though, in that she didn’t understand why high school freshmen didn’t instinctively understand the beauty of Shakespeare. I think she would have been a little more comfortable teaching in a college environment.
SOUTHWICK: Did you have brothers and sisters?
ANSTROM: One sister who is 11 years younger than I am. She is now a bilingual education expert at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
SOUTHWICK: What kind of interests did you have as a child or young man growing up?
ANSTROM: They pretty much revolved around sports and politics, I guess. Anything that was round, I was interested in. Fortunately, growing up in small towns in the upper Midwest and the west, the talent pool was smaller by definition so I had the ability to play baseball and football and basketball and all the other sports. Baseball was my particular passion. My best summer, I think, was the year I was about 12. I was right on the cusp of eligibility for different leagues so I could play sort of an advanced little league in the morning. I could play Babe Ruth baseball in the afternoon. And I was good enough to play on the American Legion team at night. So I could play baseball all day, seven days a week. That was the best summer of my life, I think.
SOUTHWICK: Every kid’s dream.
ANSTROM: Right. Because of my parents, we had an active interest in politics and public affairs, public life. My father’s hero in life was Adlai Stevenson. We always talked politics around the dinner table, whether it was national, state, or local. So I always had an interest in politics and public affairs as well.
SOUTHWICK: Were you active in some of the campaigns as a high schooler?
ANSTROM: A little bit. I’m sure I carried around my leaflets for the Democratic Party in whatever community we lived in. It probably wasn’t until I got into college later that I got directly involved in politics.
SOUTHWICK: Where did you go to college?
ANSTROM: I went to college at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had a wonderful experience there for four years and then attended graduate school for one year at Princeton. I then took what was going to be a part-time job in Washington just for a year or two and then I’d go back and finish my graduate degree. I never made it back after coming to Washington.
SOUTHWICK: That was the Woodrow Wilson School?
SOUTHWICK: Bob Johnson was there wasn’t he?
ANSTROM: Yes he was. I didn’t know Bob. I think he was there a year or two before I was.
SOUTHWICK: What did you major in in college?
ANSTROM: I majored in American Studies. It was a combination of political science and history and English. In the time of the late 60’s, early 70’s it was a self-designed major at the time. I primarily focused on American history, which, out of all my academic interests, was the passion I had most.
SOUTHWICK: Did you have a sense at that time of what you wanted to do or what direction you wanted to go?
ANSTROM: I was always interested in politics and public affairs. Probably through college, I always assumed I’d get involved in elected politics at some point. I was very involved in student government politics and worked in various campaigns in Minnesota while I was in college. The idea I think I had, probably vaguely at least, was I’d come to Washington for a couple of years, then I’d go back to North Dakota and run for governor or something. It took about 1 ½ years in Washington to figure out that people who were involved directly in elected office gave up an awfully lot of their private life, and I wasn’t prepared to do that. But that was the original idea – to get involved in elected politics at some point.
SOUTHWICK: Outside of your family, were there teachers or others who particularly influenced you either growing up or later on in college?
ANSTROM: There were several. It’s interesting. I never had my mother as a teacher. She did not teach when my sister was young so I missed having her as a teacher. But again, being in small high schools across the Midwest, … my high school graduating class was 24 so it was hard to miss having my father as a teacher because he was the math teacher and you took math from him. He was an extraordinarily gifted teacher and had a joy of learning that I got a little bit of, not enough of probably. He really was the best teacher I ever had. He was a wonderful role model for me in terms of really understanding the joy of taking on a difficult assignment and figuring out how to solve it, just for the joy of it. I think, as I look back on all the teachers I had, he was the one who was really, truly the best. Plus, he was demanding. He always kept looking for a way to give me a B, and I never gave him that satisfaction in six years of teaching me. He was a lot tougher on me, as he should have been, in terms of the classroom. I had some remarkable elementary school teachers. I can remember Mrs. Patch who was my 5th grade teacher in Lander, Wyoming, who really opened up the world of reading in a way beyond just the way my parents had. She also had the happy coincidence of being the wife of the high school basketball coach so that was a good relationship for me in terms of getting a little special insight into what was going on with the high school basketball team. In college I had some wonderful teachers. My advisor for my Honor’s paper and program at Macalester was an American History professor, Jim Stuart, who was an expert in the pre-Civil War south and the Abolitionist Movement. He really, again, was full of excitement about learning and insight into American politics and history. Probably the person who had the most influence, other than my parents, was a man named Arthur Flemming, the president of Macalester College when I was there. He had served in the Eisenhower cabinet, had actually been in Franklin Roosevelt’s Civil Service Commission. I was privileged to get to know him. Again, it was a small college campus. It was the 60’s and 70’s. I had been president of the student body at Macalester. It was a time when student presidents and college presidents got to know each other pretty well. We developed a very close relationship. He later went to Washington, headed all the aging programs in the 70’s as well as chaired the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He’s the one who brought me to Washington to work as his assistant after I’d been at Princeton for a year. He was an extraordinarily powerful influence on my life. If you look back and sort of ask the question, “Who’s been a mentor?” Dr. Flemming certainly was for me. He really taught me a lot about how politics and public policy worked. But more importantly, he taught me how important values are, not just in sort of your work life, but how your personal values influence everything you’re involved in, and how one can stay true to those values as one makes the necessary compromises that we all have to make in our business and professional lives. He actually ended up officiating at the marriage of my wife and I at a later point. I met her at the old Department of Health, Education, and Welfare when I was working for him.
SOUTHWICK: Wonderful. So how did you come to Washington? Did he call you?
ANSTROM: He called me and asked me to come down and see if I’d like to spend just part-time working as his assistant. I was in full-time graduate school at the time, but I commuted back and forth between Princeton and Washington twice a week. After a year he said, “Why don’t you come down and work full-time?” I thought, “What a great insight into Washington in terms of working with someone like him on issues that I care a lot about.” Again I had this notion, “Should I go back to graduate school after a couple of years?” But I never made it back.
SOUTHWICK: There’s still a chance.
ANSTROM: I couldn’t get accepted now. I look at our children, and I’m glad I’m not competing against them right now. I think it would probably not be a good environment for me to go compete against the new generation of young people in graduate schools.
SOUTHWICK: What was your first job with Dr. Flemming?
ANSTROM: My first job was to work as his assistant in his role as U.S. Commissioner on Aging which had responsibility for leading really the establishment of a whole set of new social programs designed to focus on lower income, older Americans that grew out of legislation that was passed in the early 1970’s. It was a time in which America was sort of discovering the idea that our population was aging and that there were a number of people who were struggling in terms of income and nutrition and other areas. The fellow you had an association with, Senator Kennedy, was very much involved in the leadership of a number of programs that were authorized, interestingly during the Nixon administration. One of the things people forget is that the Nixon administration, on domestic policy, was actually, if not liberal, at least pretty progressive in terms of their support for a lot of new domestic spending. So it was a time to come in and help work with him on shaping those programs and laying out the rules and how they’d be governed and administered and all that. It was a very exciting time.
SOUTHWICK: Was this a permanent agency or something set up for a brief period of time?
ANSTROM: Yes, it was a permanent agency. It still exists. It’s now called the Administration on Aging, which is part of what’s now the Department of Health and Human Services, but at the time was the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. He was a presidential appointee, confirmed by the Senate in that position in terms of administering those programs – interesting, in terms of having been the Secretary of HEW and then coming back in in a sub-cabinet post in HEW. But again, he was very committed to public service and an opportunity to really get these programs off the ground and get them shaped. About that same time, he also became the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. While I never worked directly for him in that post, because of my relationship as his executive assistant, I got some real exposure into the civil rights issues he was dealing with. In particular, I can remember going up to Boston for a series of hearings the Commission on Civil Rights was holding in the early 1970’s on school desegregation, feeling the tension in that community. I went into the Federal Building escorted by federal marshals with Dr. Flemming and others because of the tensions in Boston around bussing at that time.
SOUTHWICK: And you were still in your early 20’s right?
ANSTROM: Very early 20’s, right. So I had the privilege of working with Dr. Flemming through 1976, and then Jimmy Carter was elected president with a pledge to reorganize the federal government. They went about setting up a team in what’s known as the Office of Management and Budget out of the White House to look at how to redeem a number of the promises “candidate Carter” had made, among them creating a Department of Education, taking the “E” out of HEW. So they looked for people who had been working in the government who knew something about how the government operated and could be part of this team. I somehow got identified and was recruited to go work on that team at OMB for two years. I primarily worked on the creation of the Department of Education both in the development of the plan and then lobbying it with the Congress. It was quite an extraordinary political experience.
SOUTHWICK: Did you have an office in the White House or in the old Executive Office Building?
ANSTROM: In that job, I was off in the “new” Executive Office Building, which is across the street from the White House. Then after the Department of Education legislation was passed, I was recruited to come over and work in the White House, in the “old” EOB in the White House complex, in the Office of Presidential Personnel, which is the office that recruits all the presidential appointees. I particularly worked on recruiting the secretary and the other senior appointees for the first Department of Education and then on other assignments as well. There I had, at about age 28 I guess, one of these offices in the old Executive Office Building that had ceilings about 14′ high and that all kinds of people had undoubtedly occupied before. I pinch myself now that, in many ways at that age, it was probably the most remarkable job one could ever have. I can remember walking out of the old Executive Office Building at night, watching the flag fly over the White House and thinking, “Boy, am I lucky coming from Drayton, North Dakota, to be here working on some of the issues that I was.” That was a great experience.
SOUTHWICK: In terms of lobbying the Congress, what did that teach you, that experience – in terms of how you go about lobbying, how you try to influence legislation?
ANSTROM: It’s interesting. Of course you know a little bit about this as well. I never took a course in it. I think I had learned a lot working with Dr. Flemming on the aging programs. But I learned a couple of things. One was the need for constant communication, the notion of no surprises. Congress is a very busy place and there are a lot of things that go on. One certain thing that will upset, I think appropriately, any member of Congress or staff person is if there’s a surprise about what your position is or what you’re thinking about or what you’re going to do or propose. The notion of constant communication was one thing I certainly learned. I did burn up a lot of the proverbial shoe leather along with the team I was part of in communicating what we were thinking about in terms of what should be in the Department of Education, what its impact would be on other departments and agencies, what our vision was for the department. I don’t think there’s ever any substitute for that in terms of constant communication. I think, also, listening well was part of that. In the end, the Congress does dispose of what the Executive Branch recommends. Some administrations do better than others at this. Being able to listen carefully to the advice you get is important. Sometimes it’s advice you don’t want to have, but it’s important to get that in terms of shaping something that actually can pass as opposed to trying to ram something through the Congress. I learned that. I think I also learned the importance of coalitions. We worked very hard from the White House on this legislation to create the Department of Education, for example, to have allies in the education community, in the public administration community, in the press and elsewhere. Members of Congress are influenced in lots of ways. While administrations, if they do their job, can have an influence on Congress, being able to have friends and allies in the effected constituencies and in the media and elsewhere is also important. I spent a lot of my time working on cultivating and building those relationships as well.
SOUTHWICK: And you were a Democrat? Dr. Flemming was a Republican so that notion of reaching across the aisle was….
ANSTROM: Absolutely. It was also a time in Washington that was heated. Of course, it was a time just after the Nixon impeachment, the reform candidate coming in, and the Republicans reeling in many ways after all of that, so there were still some pretty sharp partisan feelings. Yet I look back on it compared to the Washington we see today, and there were real giants in the Congress at that time who reached across party lines. They socialized with each other. They took an interest in what was happening with their children and their families. They spent some private time with each other getting to know each other in a way that allowed more of a bipartisan approach to legislation. Some of this is probably old fogeyism now looking back 20 – 25 years ago about how it “used to be” in the Congress. But I think there was something fundamentally different then than the way it is today. Now the typical member of Congress is in Washington 2 ½ days a week and is out raising money in their district the rest of the time. One, there isn’t even the time to build those relationships; and two, the partisan walls have gotten awfully high. There’s very little of that communication across party aisles as there was in the late 70’s, mid 80’s.
SOUTHWICK: Jimmy Carter was not reelected.
SOUTHWICK: Where did that leave you?
ANSTROM: Well, sitting in the old Executive Office Building, knowing that I was going to be looking for a job. There was a little irony in that in that sometimes when I’m working on a project that I wonder, “Why am I spending my time on this,” I do use this one experience that I had at that time as a balance – “Well, I could have been doing that.” For the last three months of the Carter administration, starting at about Labor Day through the election, I was given an assignment to develop the briefing book that would be handed to President Carter the day after he was reelected on how to staff and reorganize his administration. It was a beautiful briefing book. I still have it in my attic at home. I worked really hard, night and day, seven days a week, lots of consultations with senior staff and others. We had a set of personnel recommendations and moves and people we wanted to bring into the government that would be handed by the Chief of Staff to the president the morning after he was reelected. So that was an exercise that I probably learned a lot, but it didn’t pay any dividends. January 20, 1981 came and went, and I ended up moving to a consulting firm that was associated with a law firm that had a very prominent member, Walter Mondale, who had just joined them. I worked in the consulting firm. There was just two or three of us, actually beginning to build some business and to work with people who wanted interpretation about Washington; then as a pro bono effort, beginning to work literally weeks after President Reagan took office, on getting Walter Mondale elected president in 1984.
SOUTHWICK: You had worked closely with him in the White House?
ANSTROM: I worked a little bit with him. I certainly knew about him and his people from my days in Minnesota. I knew his senior staff people very well, and I had worked very closely with them during the Carter administration. There were actually three of us: a fellow named Jim Johnson who ultimately became chairman of Fannie Mae and who was president of this company and who was the chairman of Mondale’s campaign, Dick Holbrooke who had been an assistant secretary in the state department; and I was the young kid designed to get a lot of work done in terms of what the consulting firm was doing. I handled a lot of the domestic social policy work in the early phases of the Mondale campaign.
SOUTHWICK: What was your impression of Vice President Mondale?
ANSTROM: I have great affection for him. He is a man of great integrity, had a real view about the role of government in our society, cared passionately about issues I care a lot about including looking out for those less fortunate in our society including the value of education in our society. He was extraordinarily well-informed, intelligent man with a real sense of the world and the country. Again, I was very privileged to be part of his campaign. I wish we had done a little better. We did carry Minnesota by 15,000 votes, but that was it. That was a long election night as well, watching the Reagan landslide of 1984. But it was a great experience for me. I still see he and his wife, Joan, whom I’m both very fond of. They’re really great people. In the end, I was proud of that campaign. We obviously lost. History will record that President Reagan with an 8.5% increase in gross national product in 1984, probably deserved to be reelected. But, you know, he cared enough to stand for something in that campaign and deliberately made a point of standing for something in that campaign. It was important to do, and again, I was proud to be part of it.
SOUTHWICK: Did you travel with him or were you in Washington?
ANSTROM: Not really. A couple of times I did some traveling with him selectively. One of my portfolios was the education portfolio that also involved getting the endorsements of the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. So on some of those trips I would travel, but I was mostly Washington-based.
SOUTHWICK: So there you were, again, election night, 1984, once again without a job.
ANSTROM: Actually I still had a job because we had a consulting firm that still existed. We really went about building more of that. During the early years of the 80’s as we were also working on the campaign, we had attracted several blue chip clients including Lehman Brothers that became Shearson Lehman Brothers and also Goldman Sachs. We did a lot of work with them on their mergers and acquisitions activities, their arbitrage activities and other things where some insight into what was happening in a regulatory agency or the Congress was very important. So I did a lot of work with those two investment banks. We also had a series of corporate clients who had various public policy and other related interests in Washington. Then I also had a portfolio of a nonprofit organizations like the National Education Association, the American Association of Retired Persons, and others, where I’d work with them more on organizational issues – how to build a grass roots presence in certain communities or how to organize their public policy research functions more. That was less lucrative but also a fun part of the business. I really dived into that full time beginning after the ’84 campaign.
SOUTHWICK: And the firm’s name?
ANSTROM: Public Strategies was the name of the firm. We founded it in ’81. Actually, it subsequently turned over into several other hands now and is being run by a great guy, Joe O’Neill, who at one point was Senator Benson’s chief of staff and really just an extraordinary guy.
SOUTHWICK: And you stayed with them for how long?
ANSTROM: Till the end of 1987. Then I got a call from a very close friend out of the Carter administration and the Mondale campaign, Bert Carp. Bert had worked for Senator Mondale on the Hill, had been the deputy policy director in the Carter administration, had gone to a law firm in Washington and then had gone to NCTA in 1984 with Jim Mooney. He was leaving NCTA at the end of 1987 to set up Ted Turner’s Washington office. Bert called me. We had stayed in close touch. We were good friends through this period of time. He called one day and said, “You know, I’m going to be leaving NCTA, been talking to Jim Mooney (who I did not know) about somebody who might become the executive vice president of NCTA and would you be interested in coming over and meeting Jim?” It sort of struck me as the right thing to do. I had not worked in communications much. I was a cable subscriber. That was good. And I liked cable television.
SOUTHWICK: Although you’d not had a television set when you were growing up.
ANSTROM: I made up for it with a vengeance after I left home. So I went over and saw Jim and after meeting with him several times, he offered me a job to come to NCTA then.
SOUTHWICK: You had not known him when he worked for Brademas on the Hill?
ANSTROM: No. I worked with Brademas and some of the other Brademas people but I hadn’t known Jim. Jim was a legend in the Brademas because he was a political strategist for John and was a guy who clearly had a lot of clout, not only with John Brademas but also in the House Democratic caucus. But I had not worked directly with Jim. I had worked with some of the committee and sub-committee people who handled the policy issues rather than the broader politics, which Jim handled for John Brademas.
SOUTHWICK: And your position at NCTA was executive vice president?
ANSTROM: My title was executive vice president, sort of a deputy to Jim.
SOUTHWICK: And how did you divide the duties? What were your responsibilities?
ANSTROM: It was always an ebb and flow, but there were a couple of things. I had, sort of, overall administrative day-to-day duties in terms of the budget, the hiring and related things, keeping the house in order. That was one part of it. Another part of it was working closely to coordinate the various things that were going on so that our public affairs and our government relations and our grass roots activities were coordinated. I worked closely with our government relations team and really, sort of the in-house part of our grass roots work in the cable industry in making sure that if we needed to get Congressman Schlobotnik’s vote, that the right cable operators were visiting Congressman Schlobotnik in terms of impressing on him the importance of being associated with the cable industry’s position on some things. So there was a lot of that. Then the first thing that Jim gave me to work on, that I spent a lot of time on, was beginning to build a strategy and execute a strategy to defeat the telephone company’s interest of getting into the cable industry. I spent a lot of time on that. So those were the broad responsibilities. One of the more interesting assignments I got from Jim early on was to help staff a group to create CableLabs. Jim had a real vision, along with Dick Leghorn, about the need to have an R&D capacity in the industry. Jim talked to John Malone in 1988 asking if this was the time to get started. John said he thought it was. Jim asked me to work with him in terms of pulling people together and creating a committee and went to work on developing the outline of CableLabs. That was a fun assignment. There were other assignments, as need be, as part of that job description as well.
SOUTHWICK: What was it that attracted you, in terms of the cable industry or the NCTA? Why did you make the decision to go there?
ANSTROM: Bert had talked very expansively about Jim and about NCTA and about the role it played in the industry. Bert was a good friend, and somebody I really trusted. Bert’s view was coming out of the 1984 deregulation of the industry and the explosive growth going on – that this was going to be a really interesting time. Little did I know how interesting.
SOUTHWICK: You said it was an interesting time in the history of the cable industry. How so?
ANSTROM: Well, of course, what happened is I sometimes felt like the fellow who walks with a cloud over his head. I came out of the consulting business. My two major clients were Shearson Lehmann Brothers and Goldman Sachs. There was a stock crash of October, 1987. I came into NCTA, again at a time where there was obviously a lot of growth, a lot of expansion, a lot of innovation in the cable industry. But at the same time, in early 1988, Senator Jack Danforth introduced a bill to reregulate the cable industry, and of course we went through the 4-year death march that led to the 1992 Cable Act. In terms of the public policy environment, working with the cable industry in Washington at that time, it was an extraordinarily intense time. It was a little different than probably I would have expected coming in. But Bert had laid out, very clearly, the role that NCTA played and the excitement that one could have in a new, growing industry like cable. And Jim was somebody who – one was immediately impressed at his intelligence, his insight about the industry, his love for the industry, the opportunities to make a difference from a platform like NCTA. I had the opportunity of working with someone with a lot of intelligence, a lot of integrity. That mattered to me a lot as well. And of course, NCTA had a wonderful reputation in Washington as well – I checked with friends – in terms of being a trade association that represented its industry well and with a lot of integrity and directness and candor. That all appealed to me. And the fact that I was just to be able to learn a lot. Having done different things, a chance to basically get an on-the-job education at NCTA in a reasonably senior role in an industry that clearly was right on the cutting edge not only of technology but also of entertainment, struck me as a great perch in terms of learning some new things. All those things went into my decision to go there. Despite some pretty bleak moments in 1992, I was glad I did.
SOUTHWICK: Was NCTA structured differently or positioned differently somehow? How do you compare it to other trade organizations that existed in Washington? There are hundreds of them, right?
ANSTROM: The principal difference about NCTA then and still now, is the direct involvement of the CEOs of the companies. I think that is NCTA’s unique, on-going strength. The board isn’t a group of the vice presidents for government relations of all the different companies or senior vice president for the subsidiary of some part of a company.
SOUTHWICK: Which is more typically …
ANSTROM: … which is more typical of most trade associations. The notion that you have, not just in a pro forma sense but in a real sense, the CEOs on the board, participating in the association, coming to the meetings, being at the table. They’re the decision makers. So you really get an exchange of views, and you can make a decision at that table about what you need to do. The CEOs also support the association in terms of resources, cooperation of their companies, all the other things that need to happen. That’s been the most important thing about NCTA’s enduring strength. The other thing, I think, is that the industry has generally been supportive of NCTA as well. Obviously a lot of that comes from the CEOs involvement. I think NCTA has played an important role of leadership in the industry as well as supporting the industry’s companies. I think that really has been what’s, in large part, differentiated NCTA is that CEO involvement in the industry support.
SOUTHWICK: Talk a little bit about, if you will, your impressions of the board members, either collectively or individually, as you got to know them. This must have been a different experience. Were they sophisticated politically? Did they understand how the process worked, for example? You said they were very involved.
ANSTROM: It obviously varied from CEO to CEO. One thing that was interesting to me right away was that they all had an appreciation for the importance of politics. My sense was that a lot of that came out of their experience of local franchising. While they may not have known a lot about how Washington worked, you didn’t have the challenge that you had probably in other industries about why does Washington matter, why does politics matter? Clearly, everyone around that table typically, at that time in the late 80’s, had had personal experience in local franchising issues so that they knew that politics mattered. And of course, they had just come out of the 1984 Act in which they saw how Congress could have a direct and substantial impact on the future of their business. In that sense, there was a lot of appreciation for politics. There were also a lot of people in the industry who were genuinely interested in politics. Some of them were actively involved with various presidential campaigns. Some had run for office – like Glenn Jones. Others spent time with their local and state elected officials. This was not universal, but I was struck by the number of CEOs who personally had been involved in or were supporting people who were involved with politics. Different levels of sophistication existed obviously. Like any group of businessmen, there’s always, in particular, a lack of appreciation for what really in the end motivates a member of Congress. I think there’s an overestimation about the impact of money and an under-appreciation for the importance of constituents and consumer satisfaction with what you’re doing in your business. In the interest of protecting people, I won’t name people in this interview, but there are any number of people in the industry during my experience with NCTA who said, “How could that SOB vote against us? I wrote him a check for $1,000.”
SOUTHWICK: Meaning a campaign contribution.
ANSTROM: Right. Always a legal campaign contribution. I want to be sure we’re clear on the record here. But you know, and I know, … in a sense, campaign contributions, are like a turnstile token. It gets you in the office to make your case, but there are a lot of other things then that a member of Congress is going to weigh in terms of how he does something. I think there’s probably some lack of sophistication there. And I think in some ways, the industry – in the late 80’s and early 90’s in particular – was a little over-confident because of their success in 1984, and I think did not fully appreciate how important it was to have happy local officials and happy customers. It was one thing to be the plucky underdog in 1983 and 1984, and members of Congress would overlook some customer service problems or some other things because Congress genuinely wants to help the underdog get a chance to compete in American business. By 1990, the cable industry wasn’t the underdog anymore. I think people in the industry missed that dynamic.
SOUTHWICK: As I recall, the ’84 act had a rate deregulation provision that kicked in about three years after the act was passed. So it must have been right about the time that you came to the NCTA that rate regulation ended.
SOUTHWICK: What happened then?
ANSTROM: All hell broke lose, clearly. It’s the only way to describe it. I remember sitting there in 1988, having just finished reviewing an Arthur Andersen survey, funded by NCTA, of what was happening with cable rate increases. We were looking at double digit cable increases all over the country. Those persisted through ’88 and ’89 and ’90. Again at one level, they were fully understandable, fully justified in terms of the pent up investment that was made by the cable industry, the dramatic expansion and channel capacity, the second generation of all the cable networks that were launched, the improvement in the existing cable networks. This wasn’t by and large (there were some instances), price gouging. This was reflecting the improved quality of what people were being offered, and consumers were obviously responding to it in terms of people subscribing to cable, taking extra packages, second set hook-ups, and all the rest. Consumers liked the product. But there was a disconnect, I think, in terms of the industry’s ability to explain the relationship between the price being charged and the value being delivered. I think that, frankly, that price/value equation is one the cable industry still hasn’t really solved in terms of communicating to consumers. But in the late 80’s, clearly all hell broke lose in terms of city councilmen getting calls about cable rates going up. That was then compounded by the customer service problems that the industry faced. I actually think, in retrospect, and I’d be interested as the industry reflects on this over time whether others agree with it, we could have survived one or the other, but not both. I think it was the double kiss of death of both the price increases and lots and lots of situations of poor customer service. In the end, Tom, as one looks at what happened in 1992 finally, I have often joked that what happened to the industry then in Congress was “death by anecdote”, that every member of Congress either had a personal experience or something in their family where they had a bad experience with the cable industry.
SOUTHWICK: Were there particular ones that hit particular key members of Congress particularly hard that you can recall?
ANSTROM: Well I can remember several quite distinctly in terms of the impact in Washington. Certainly the price increases in Hawaii had an enormous impact on Senator Inouye who had been a staunch supporter of the cable industry, who believed in deregulation, who wanted the cable industry to compete, who is one of the most fair-minded, principled men in the Congress. But it goes back to “don’t surprise people”. When prices jumped in Honolulu, and he hadn’t been told, and his constituents were unhappy, we committed the worst offense you again with any member of Congress – which is that we surprised a friend. So that certainly was one. The story has been told many times – and others can probably tell it better than me, but we felt the impact as did Jim and others in Washington – of the increases in western Tennessee by the Pompadour systems. These were not systems that were being rebuilt. These were not systems that had any new programming. This was price gouging with 15% – 20% price increases at a time when Al Gore was clearly wanting to promote additional competition to the cable industry from satellite. It was an absolutely responsible public policy on Gore’s part. He wasn’t part of the regular anti-cable gang. He wanted to promote competition, not to regulate cable. And yet, in his own back yard, in dozens of communities, the prices went up in ways that nobody could defend. So those are two that I remember quite vividly: Hawaii and western Tennessee.
SOUTHWICK: How did you personally hear about the reaction to this? Were people on the Hill telling you this?
ANSTROM: It didn’t take long to get translated in terms of calls from the Hill. They probably didn’t land on my desk directly. Usually the first spear was thrown directly at Jim, I think, or one of our lobbyists. It didn’t take long for people to let us know how unhappy they were about it.
SOUTHWICK: What did the NCTA do to try … Let me ask you a couple of quick questions about the NCTA. When you came in, how big was it? Roughly what was the budget and how many people were employed there?
ANSTROM: That’s a good question. I would guess roughly about 75 people, probably a budget of $15 million, something like that. That would be my guess.
SOUTHWICK: And most of that came from dues or from the trade show or both?
ANSTROM: Most of it then and now comes from dues. The trade show has a very small incremental addition to the overall revenue for the trade association. Most of it is dues. And the dues are roughly 80% cable operator, 20% cable network. The ratio was probably a little higher, operator to network, at that time because of course the networks were still in their early stages. But now it’s about 80-20. It might have been 85-15 in the early 90’s.
SOUTHWICK: You mentioned that one of your first tasks was the issue of telephone companies and whether they would get involved in cable. How did that play out, particularly against this background of the rate increases and so forth?
ANSTROM: Well, of course, what happened was that the phone companies were very smart about seeing the opportunity to make the case that what cable needs in competition. I can remember Jim and Cynthia Bromfield, who at the time was the vice president for research at NCTA, and me spending lots of time working on trying to develop analyses to combat what the telephone companies did. They very quickly started issuing reports on a regular basis to the Congress, about all the price increases of cable companies. We were put in the defensive posture then of saying, “No, it really wasn’t a 12% increase in Murphyville, Tennessee; it was only 8%. And no, the national average increase wasn’t 15%. It was only 10%.” Of course, every time we had that debate, we lost more ground. And the phone companies were very smart and very aggressive on that. So they seized the rate increases as a way of making the case to allow them to come in and compete with the cable industry. Of course that prohibition was one that went back some number of years on the basis that you didn’t want someone with monopoly power, particularly over facilities that the telephone companies had, to be able to move into adjacent businesses and leverage that monopoly power.
SOUTHWICK: Did they want to own cable systems or try and offer cable over their own wires or both?
ANSTROM: Both. They clearly had in mind buying cable systems in regions, but particularly they also wanted to build cable systems and compete with the cable companies. They had a broader agenda. They were trying to figure out how to hood wink the telephone regulators into allowing them higher phone rates or better depreciation provisions in terms of their telephone business. Of course they came upon the nice idea that if we, as a telephone company were going to create competition to cable, then of course you’d want to give us more flexibility in our core telephone business to build out the facilities to compete with cable. So that was their economic game plan.
SOUTHWICK: So they were pushing for legislation to allow them to do that.
SOUTHWICK: At the same time, there were a host of others folks who were pushing for legislation to impede cable in one way or another – the backyard dish people, the broadcasters, the Motion Picture Association of America. I assume they seized upon these rate increases as a justification.
ANSTROM: Absolutely. I have sort of this mental picture, Tom, of that period starting…. particularly once the rates started to go up and the controversy began and Senator Danforth put in his first bill, I guess it was really ’89. Once that process started, I had this image that you see on certain unnamed cable networks (it’s not the Weather Channel) of the elk out on the tundra that has been wounded, and the wolves begin to circle, and they start biting different parts of the wounded elk. We were the wounded elk, and the wolves began to come. One big wolf was the phone companies who had their agenda. Another big wolf was the broadcasters who wanted “must carry” and retransmission consent. Another big wolf was the motion picture industry who had a set of issues in terms of vertical integration by the cable companies. Another big wolf were the cities that wanted to revisit some of the franchising issues and local programming and related issues. Another big wolf was the electronic consumer companies who had some issues about set-top boxes available in their retail market-place. It became a wish list. In the end, when the cable industry made the decision not to negotiate but to defeat legislation in the ’91-’92 Congress, the congressional proponents of the cable regulation did what any congressional leader does at that point which is if Group A comes in and says, “I’ll support your bill if you’ll put another title on that gives me what I need.” It just got stacked up and before long there were a lot of very big locomotives pulling this cable bill across the tracks.
SOUTHWICK: Senator Metzenbaum held hearings in the Senate as well.
SOUTHWICK: There was a change in leadership in the House also in the mid-80s. Tim Wirth, who had been the chairman of the House Telecommunications Sub-Committee, moved to the Senate and a new chairman came in.
ANSTROM: Right, Ed Markey from Massachusetts and obviously a critic of the industry. It’s interesting watching the evolution of some of these guys. Markey is a good example of that. Markey was a defender and a proponent of the 1984 Cable Act deregulating the cable industry. I think he wanted to see competition to the local broadcasters. He believed in more voices, more opportunities for consumers to get information, but I think he felt hoodwinked a little bit, probably, in terms of what happened in the late 80’s on prices and customer service. His answer was both to regulate the industry and to create competition. Obviously he became one of the industry’s harshest critics and led the effort to re-regulate the industry in 1991-92. He was very effective. There’s not a better insider in the House, even in his minority role today. He knows how to get votes and how to cast an argument, how to use the press, how to work across the aisle if he needs to. He was a very talented leader of the regulate cable efforts in ’91 – ’92.
SOUTHWICK: As the anecdotes piled up and as the momentum moved towards legislation, hearings were held. How did the NCTA develop its strategy and how did that strategy change over the period of ’87 – ’90?
ANSTROM: I think initially what we tried to do in the ’89-’90 period was to really try to do two things. Internally, obviously, we tried to counsel the industry to be careful and to slow down some of the price increases, to pay more attention in terms of communicating with consumers and local officials and the media and others about what was happening and how we were providing better value. So there was that part in terms of the internal communication. That obviously had some success but not enough. The second part of it was to make the public case in Washington that whatever short-term issues were going on in terms of price increases, that this was to be expected in an industry in which prices that had been artificially depressed for years, that this was a short-term phenomenon, and that the prices reflected the increased value the consumers were getting. A lot of people took the time to listen to that argument, and I think we had a credible argument to make. People saw it in their own living rooms which was the other thing. Suddenly, looking at the major move of pro football to ESPN and TNT, and what some of the entertainment networks were beginning to do, the growth of CNN as the place to turn to for breaking news. There were lots of things happening that validated the idea …
SOUTHWICK: C-SPAN brought these politicians home.
ANSTROM: Absolutely – in everyone’s living room. But I think there was a lot to validate the idea that the investments that the cable industry was making, while it was being reflected in retail prices, was also producing value. So we tried to make that case. It became pretty apparent as we moved into 1990, that that case was not going to stick though. The effort at that point was to see if we could work out a compromise with the Congress that would give up some of what had been gained in 1984 but not go to the core of the business. There were two competing issues here, as you know. One was the rate regulation issue. The other was the rather extraordinary idea that the Congress would mandate that cable programming had to be made available to any distributor, the so-called program access provisions. The industry was trying to balance those two, and the judgment was made that the industry could accept some price regulation as long as it maintained the ability to control its own product. People forget how close that came to passing in 1990 in terms of a compromise with the Congress. The bill actually cleared the House committees, cleared the House. It started to move through the Senate and again we just didn’t make the final compromise. That happened for a couple of reasons. One is that people like Senator Metzenbaum wanted more than the industry could agree to, particularly on the program-access issues. Also, the industry itself started to fracture a little bit. This is a very entrepreneurial industry. It’s an industry that really, like any industry I suspect, would rather not have government bureaucrats telling us how to run it. We’d like to run it as business people in the marketplace. There were clearly some voices in the industry in 1990 saying, “We don’t want this bill. We don’t want partial regulation.” So when the effort to shape a compromise in 1990 fell apart, the question in 1991 was: would the industry come back and try to compromise with the Congress again or we would try to just beat any legislation.
SOUTHWICK: It was a fairly dramatic series of actions, weren’t there, at the very end of the Congress in 1990 involving Senator Wirth? Can you tell us your view of that? I know Jim Mooney was still head of the NCTA and calling the shots mostly, but how did that unfold?
ANSTROM: Well, Jim really made an extraordinary effort to reach out to Senator Wirth and Senator Gore to see if there could be a compromise on the program-access provisions. Again, people sort of now look back on the ’92 Act and how bad it was on rate regulation. Even in 1990 with the issues that were out there, there was more focus on the program-access and pro-competition issues than there was on the rate regulation. People weren’t punitive yet in terms of the rate raise. So there was a reasonable bill that passed in the House, a different kind of bill in the Senate – but one that we could have worked with. The issue was could Senator Wirth and Senator Gore come to some conclusion on program-access. Senator Gore obviously wanted to promote satellite competition to cable and understood that program-access was important to the satellite industry.
SOUTHWICK: This gave the direct broadcast satellite people the right to transmit ESPN, HBO and other cable programs.
ANSTROM: Any cable programs, exactly, which clearly they viewed as essential in terms of being able to have a product that consumers would want to buy and they could compete with cable. Exactly. There was a several week-long negotiation between Senator Gore and Senator Wirth on that provision that in the end came awfully close. But Senator Metzenbaum put his nose in at the last minute over the issues of whether this would cover regional sports networks, and the deal couldn’t be put together.
SOUTHWICK: And Senator Wirth ended up filibustering, didn’t he on the very last day of the session?
ANSTROM: Yes. Then there was an effort in which Senator Wirth along with Senator Wallup from Wyoming, I believe, and several others were involved in basically talking the bill down at the end. Actually, it was one of the great debates. It’s somewhere in the C-SPAN archives. You really don’t think of the floor of the Congress anymore as a place where people really get out and have a debate. People walk out with their talking points and their pre-prepared slides and boards and all that. But very seldom do members of Congress have enough confidence to get out on the floor and actually have a debate. I remember now, and I’ve actually seen it a couple of years ago again, the debate between Gore and Wirth on the Senate floor that went on for almost two hours. It was really quite an extraordinary debate in terms of two very smart men, very passionate views, very well-informed with their arguments well-marshaled. It was sort of like the old Senate. You had two smart people out and there weren’t staff handing them notes or anything. They were going at it.
SOUTHWICK: Two Harvard guys.
ANSTROM: That’s right.
SOUTHWICK: Two Democrats from swing states.
ANSTROM: Absolutely, absolutely. But it was a remarkable debate in terms of a very… again, you sort of think about it at the time…. That debate was a reinforcement for me about how important cable television was. At one level, you sort of step back. I think all of us, from time to time, as these cable wars in the late 80’s and late ’90’s were being fought in Washington: we have a depressed economy; we have an energy crisis still facing the country; we’ve got instability internationally; we have health care problems; and we’re debating cable rates? But I think what that debate in particular, the passion that was brought to it, the breadth of that debate on the Senate floor, should have reminded all of us in the cable industry that we were dealing with something that wasn’t just a utility. We were talking about that screen that’s on in every living room in the country seven hours a day, and people cared passionately about it. That debate probably, to take a whole day on the Senate floor, was pretty extraordinary in that regard.
SOUTHWICK: So the effort to compromise failed. The cable industry blocked the bill at the end of the session. Where did that leave things after the election in 1990 and a new Congress coming in?
ANSTROM: It left the new Congress in a position of coming right back and saying, “We want to take this issue up again.” And of course, in the meantime there hadn’t been much that really changed in the external environment. We were still having problems with price increases. All those wolves were out there circling the elk with their own agendas. They hadn’t been fulfilled yet. We still had customer service problems in the industry, although for the first time in 1990, the industry had adopted, with Jim’s leadership and Bob Miron and John Goddard really playing significant roles in this, setting some customer service standards that every cable company signed up to. That was really the first step in the industry – beginning to rationalize how it delivered services and recognizing that there were certain standards that every company really should try to meet. It was a little “too little, too late” probably by that point. So in 1991, the Congress came back. Senator Hollings and Senator Inouye and Congressman Markey basically said, “Do you want to pick up on this bill and try to work it out or not?” By that point, the Bush White House had sort of focused on this issue, in part on its own and in part because, I suspect, some people in the cable industry who didn’t want to make a deal and said, “Wait a minute. This is economic regulation of the communications industry.” And they communicated in no uncertain terms to NCTA and other cable companies, “You can’t have it both ways.” That is, you can’t go out and start negotiating with the Democrats on the Hill on a compromise bill and then if it gets out of hand, assume that we’re going to veto the bill. So if you want to go for a kill-the-bill strategy, we’ll be there for you. But that means we don’t want to see you up negotiating a bill on the Hill.” This, if you were the Bush administration, was the right call, I think. It put the cable industry in a very excruciating position. In the end, the judgment was made to try to defeat the bill. It looked like a pretty good decision in 1991. Then the Persian Gulf War came along. President Bush’s popularity rating was at 90%. His reelection looks assured. Democrats were being careful not to cross the President because of a whole string of bills that he had vetoed and sustained successfully.
SOUTHWICK: Bush had a very close, personal relationship particularly with Bill Daniels, I think.
ANSTROM: A very close relationship with Bill Daniels, in particular, which went back – as I understand the lore at least on this – to the ’88 campaign. At a very critical moment in candidate Bush’s candidacy, Bill organized some very well-placed support for him with some of his friends out of pro football, if I recall, in terms of some significant fund raising for the President. And of course they had a relationship coming out of Denver and the west. President Bush clearly had a philosophy opposing economic regulations. So none of this is surprising for the Bush administration, which had really promoted deregulation and competition. So that was the bet the industry made in 1991.
SOUTHWICK: You had a popular president coming out of the Persian Gulf War. The effort in ’91 – ’92 really hung on political prospects of President Bush. What happened to those?
ANSTROM: Two things. One is, it hung on our ability to convince the Democrats not to support the overall smorgasbord of things that had been lined up. And there were several efforts to change the bill. There was a very vigorous vote on the Senate floor on an alternative that was offered by Senator Kerry from Massachusetts and Senator Packwood from Oregon that would have had some rate regulation but did not have the retransmission consent, must-carry load and had a more moderate form of program access in it. That amendment actually got a fair number of votes in terms of the Senate floor debate. So there were some efforts to try to head off – notwithstanding the sort of delicate position the industry was in in terms of don’t negotiate in order to preserve the veto threat – to try to find some more moderate alternatives. In the end, those really failed. I think the reason for that was that the industry really couldn’t fully engage in a process of saying, “If you pass that more moderate alternative, we could support it,” because we really couldn’t say that given the Bush White House. And that was the exquisite torture chamber we were in as we went through on this. So in the end, this came down to the final scene on the House floor shortly before they adjourned in 1992 on the veto override vote with members of Congress literally running to the microphone saying, “Here’s a chance to show the country what we really think about President Bush and the need for a new administration.” Of course there had been a statement out of Little Rock from Clinton supporting the vote to override the veto.
SOUTHWICK: So it became part of the presidential …
ANSTROM: It was part of the presidential election …
SOUTHWICK: … and Gore was the vice presidential nominee.
ANSTROM: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think, as we went through the vote counting on this in a more calm moment, not in the last moments before Congress adjourned right before the election, the Bush administration working with the industry would have had a chance to sustain the veto on the House floor. It came very close in the Senate. I’m sure you’ve heard these stories, but in the Senate as we counted the votes, we were really one vote short in terms of the votes needed to sustain the veto in the Senate.
SOUTHWICK: And the way the process works is that the president vetoes the bill, and then in order to override the veto, you have to get two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate?
ANSTROM: Right. We came very close in the Senate.
SOUTHWICK: So all you needed was 37 votes in the Senate.
ANSTROM: 37 votes in the Senate. There was a block of eight votes, including some Republicans who were up for election. If we could get all eight, they would all vote together to join the other people who were prepared to sustain the veto. But we could never quite get the eight put together. The person in particular who fell off the wagon was Senator D’Amato from New York who had made a personal commitment to the Dolans and John Tatta that he would be there. Up for reelection in 1992, he just decided that commitment didn’t mean anything. There were some other tantalizingly close votes like that. But it came that close, actually. In retrospect, it sort of looks like a landslide. Again, the Senate vote, in particular, was a very close call. And I think the House one would have been an opportunity to sustain a veto if you weren’t voting one week before the Congress was adjourning to go out for a presidential election. It obviously didn’t, and the bill became law. In retrospect, I shudder to think what 1993 would have been like if the industry had sustained a veto. The Clinton/Gore administration comes in, Ed Markey welcomes us again with, “Do you want to negotiate or …?” It would not have been a pretty sight to do this a third time. The third time, all holds barred would have been disastrous. We would have been absolutely stripped naked, I think, if there had been a third time through this. As painful as the ’92 Act would have been, I can’t imagine what the ’93 Act would have looked like.
SOUTHWICK: Let me ask you about Senator, then Vice President Gore. Did this go beyond just politics. It almost seemed at times as if he had a personal vengeance against the cable industry, and I think some cable operators really felt that.
ANSTROM: I don’t know, Tom. I should probably add a little disclaimer. I’m for Vice President Gore in terms of this election. I have a lot of respect for him. I think he would make a great president if he’s elected this year. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I think he understands the communications industry and telecommunications extraordinarily well. He has great insight into these policy issues. Having said that, looking back on the ’91-’92 period in particular, I think some of it was personal. But again remember what happened. Right in the middle of a debate about program access for the satellite industry – which again I think there’s a respectable view on either side of that issue. This wasn’t a punitive view he was taking that if the satellite industry is going to be able to compete, they need access to programming. It’s a dramatic step for the government to take to, in effect appropriate property and say, “You’re going to have to sell it to somebody else.” But it’s not an irrational or indefensible position he took. Right in the middle of that debate, he’s embarrassed in his own state. I think he does what any political official does at that point – he makes sure that’s not going to happen again.
SOUTHWICK: And these are the rate increases.
ANSTROM: Right – the rate increases including his home town – 15% – 20%. So I think to that extent it may have been personal. I think the other thing is he’s obviously extraordinarily competitive like most elected officials. I think once he got into this debate, he wasn’t going to lose it. He certainly brings a focus to any legislative issue he’s ever been involved in. Of course you only have to watch him as vice president or his campaign now – this is a very competitive man who wants to win any fight he gets involved in. I don’t think that’s personal in that sense. But I understand how the industry felt about it. There are, in the course of any debate, certain arguments made that were probably tougher than they need to be or broader than they need to be in terms of condemnation. The unfortunate comment about the “cable cosa nostra” and that sort of thing was inappropriate. So I understand the feelings. I had some of them as that debate was going through. I suspect if you look at any hotly contested legislative debate, you’re going to see that.
SOUTHWICK: In the course of the debate over what became the Cable Act of ’92, how did your role at the NCTA change? And subsequent to that, after ’92?
ANSTROM: It didn’t really change during that period through ’92. I was sort of the inside guy, helping to coordinate the efforts we were working on. I worked on a lot of the vote counting, again linking what we were learning off the Hill to what we were then trying to do in terms of grass roots. So that was really my basic role throughout that time. After the ’92 Act of course, the whole scene shifted to the FCC and how they would implement the legislation. We again were tantalizing close at several points to having a more benign interpretation of the ’92 Act than ultimately emerged, but in the end, you had rules coming out in the fall of 1993 that imposed a 10% price cut on the industry along with obviously nearly 20 titles to the 1992 Cable Act. So there were many, many rule makings that were going on, but the rate proceeding was obviously the most critical. I worked a lot with Jim and the legal department and others in terms of trying to marshal the best cases we could to minimize the impact the rules had at the FCC.
SOUTHWICK: And it was about that time that Jim decided to leave?
ANSTROM: Right. In the summer of ’93, I think Jim looked around. One of the things, of course, that had begun to happen during the 1990 debate on cable, and that became exacerbated during the ’91-92 debate and certainly after the debate, was that the industry had become very fractured. We had tensions between big companies and small companies, operators and programmers, vertically integrated and non-vertically integrated companies. The industry had gone through what was really a 3 – 4 year very bloody, disruptive, public whipping by the Congress of the United States. It was not very conducive for industry unity, especially when you lose at the end of it. I think it was a very difficult situation by the summer of 1993.
SOUTHWICK: Let me ask you about, if I can interrupt you, the Program Access Rules, in particular, divided the industry. Is that fair to say?
SOUTHWICK: The programmers had a really kind of different viewpoint.
ANSTROM: It’s interesting. From the operator’s perspective, their view has been and continues to be, again not unrealistically, I think, “Look, we in effect invested in these programming companies.” And it is a pretty extraordinary history when you write the history of cable programming, that people like John Malone said, “Look, I don’t even really know what that work’s going to look like on the air. But I’ll say to John Hendricks, ‘I’m prepared to support you. I’ll write a contract guaranteeing license fees for something I haven’t even seen yet because I believe in you and what you’re going to be able to do. We’ll grow this network together.'” And obviously that happened in terms of all the arrangements between cable operators and programmers. Together we built quite an amazing business that has really changed America I think. So I think the operators looked to that and said, “Well, we had a role in creating these networks. We should have a role in deciding whether they should be available to our competitors or not.” From a programmer’s perspective, of course, you really want to be in front of every person through every device you can be. So the notion that the law might enable you to have your programming in front of everybody appealed to some programmers, clearly. What the programmers didn’t buy into, of course, was the idea not only that the government will require me now to sell my programming to the DBS industry but it’s also going to regulate the price, terms and conditions of how I do that. So even the programmers who quietly were for program access never really liked the other part of it, which was the wholesale price regulation element of it. But that clearly divided the operators and the programmers, and it created a lot of tension inside NCTA because the NCTA position was to oppose program access.
SOUTHWICK: So these were the kinds of splits that really created big tension headaches for Jim Mooney.
ANSTROM: Absolutely. And you also had people who really wanted to compromise on rate regulation and people who wanted no accommodation with the government at all. The industry had gone through precisely that debate in 1984, as you’ve written, and previous times, so it’s not new. But you had all those tensions. I think you also had tensions between people who would had behaved reasonably and responsibly, if you will, on prices and those who hadn’t. I still feel that when I look at a Dick Roberts at TeleCable or a Bob Miron at Advanced Newhouse Systems, who really were careful about their price increases and who listened to the quiet jawboning that Jim constantly practiced of “be careful with your prices, take care of your communities, communicate what you’re doing,” they had prices that ended up being significantly lower than operators who priced very aggressively. Yet when rate regulation came, everybody got cut 10%. So there were lots of tensions and bad feelings there as well.
SOUTHWICK: And when Jim left, what was your situation?
ANSTROM: I was ready to leave. I’d been through the same process that Jim had, not as directly. I don’t think anybody can understand the difficulty that Jim had with this job. Our industry will go through a lot of different versions of our history, but I hope, ultimately, when the history is written, that Jim’s key role in leading our industry is fully appreciated. It’s clear to me, as I learn the history, that there wouldn’t have been a 1984 Act, that really was the “Magna Carta” for cable, without Jim Mooney’s leadership and his legislative skills. If the industry had listened to Jim more carefully from ’85 – ’90, the picture might have been a little different. He almost pulled off a miracle in 1990 in terms of negotiating a compromise and I think, if some companies hadn’t undermined him in the Senate in the end, we would have had a bill in 1990. In ’91 – ’92, he was the trooper who went out and made the case and, again, came tantalizingly close to getting a veto sustained. Minimum, he bought eight years of unregulated activity for the industry, which if one looks back, really gave birth to the modern cable industry. But that’s a long time and a lot of pounding publicly and privately, a lot of wear and tear. By 1993, Jim had a wonderful wife and new son. Life’s too short. I remember talking with Jim that summer of ’93 about how he wanted to spend his life. Jimmy was young and clearly going to be the apple of his Dad’s eye. I think the notion, when you’re young and can do something else with your life, it’s time to move on. And he made that decision. And I really had made that decision as well. I really wanted to move on and do something else. I was hoping maybe to do something with one of the media companies because I really had become fascinated by this business and thought it would be fun to try to translate what I’d learned in Washington, both at NCTA and earlier working with my investment banking clients in the real world outside Washington. I started talking to people about doing some different things. Amazingly, there were even some people interested. So a Search Committee was set up, the summer of 1993, to find a successor for Jim. I informed them that I did not want to be considered as a candidate. That was a very genuine view on my part. My wife and I began to prepare to leave Washington when somebody was picked to run NCTA. Then in about October, I got a call from Dick Roberts, chairman of the NCTA Board. Bob Miron was heading the Search Committee. Dick said, “Don’t go anywhere.”
SOUTHWICK: You were the acting president at that time.
ANSTROM: I was the acting president at that period of time. He said, “Don’t go anywhere because we’re going to want to talk with you.” I said, “Well, let me think about it.” As the process went on for a few more weeks, I ended up talking with Dick and Bob and then several of the Search Committee members came in and had breakfast with me, and they made an offer I couldn’t say no to in December. So I became president, full-time, in January, 1994.
SOUTHWICK: What were some of the first things you really had to work on?
ANSTROM: There were a couple of things that had to be done. One, we were still, of course, in the middle of all the FCC proceedings that were going badly for us. One of the first things that happened in February, 1994 is that Reed Hundt came in as the new FCC Chairman. He was Al Gore’s friend and determined to carry out the Democratic agenda and he cut rates another 7%. This followed on the heels of some actions in the late fall of ’93 in which the 10% rate cut had gone in but because of some anomalies in the FCC rules, we had cable operators who actually raised their rates in that period. I will never forget a meeting in December 1993, in which Ed Markey called me into one of his offices in one of the House annexes. Pam Turner and Lois Richerson from the NCTA staff were with me. I think we all walked out of that meeting having never had a meeting like that with a member of Congress.
SOUTHWICK: How so?
ANSTROM: He sat there for 1 ½ hours – this was on the heels of a cartoon that had run in the Boston Globe the week before that had something to say about cable rates. It showed Ed Markey tied up in red tape and Washington bureaucracy and made him look foolish as cable rates increased. He pounded, literally, pounded a table to the point that the phone was jumping off it, basically saying that was never going to happen again, that if he had to kill the cable industry, he would do it, that he had been personally embarrassed, and that either the industry was going to figure out that they were going to abide by the law, both in terms of letter and spirit, or there was going to be more medicine administered.
ANSTROM: I will never forget that. That was as strong…. I had the good sense to listen and not try to talk during that meeting. So really the first mission that I felt I had and that the industry had, was to communicate to the Congress that we got it – that we understood that we had misbehaved, that there were problems with our rates and our customer service, and that we understood that, and that we had to go fix that. I think that was absolutely the most important thing to do. So we set out about trying to communicate to the Congress a new message, which was “We understand why you passed the act. We’re not up here trying to re-debate that Act, and we’re going to start a process of rehabilitating our industry, and we want to hear from you what we need to do.” It was a listening process. Privately, clearly what we had to do was first of all, reunify the industry so that we could speak with one voice again. Then we needed to get the industry focused on fixing the things that had to be fixed. The first thing was clearly customer service. Next, due to the second round of Hundt’s rate reduction, cable prices went down by the government’s 7% cut. The next piece of this was to begin to rebuild relationships with members of Congress and with the media and with local officials. So it was an external role of mea culpa and a private role of reunifying the industry and beginning to fix the problems that people had identified.
SOUTHWICK: Had you made this clear to the NCTA Board that this was something you would want to do before you took the job?
ANSTROM: Yes, and they were ready. These are very smart, talented people. When you’re hit across the forehead with a two-by-four, I think people sort of understood. Of course the values of the companies had plummeted. A number of people were making decisions to sell their companies at that point, given the rate regulation scheme. I think for people who cared about the industry and wanted to have a future in the industry, it didn’t take much persuasion, I think, to understand, “We have to rebuild our relationships with the policy makers. That’s the first order of business.”
SOUTHWICK: Talk a little, if you will, about Reed Hundt. What was he like in terms of dealing with him? Did he understand the business?
ANSTROM: Not initially I don’t think. He was very difficult to deal with initially. I remember the first time I asked to come see him. He had an assistant who had also been a congressional staffer during the period who worked on the Democratic side, had been part of the effort to regulate the cable industry, and who had come away from the ’92 experience feeling that we weren’t particularly friendly or helpful so therefore why be helpful to us.
SOUTHWICK: Who was that?
ANSTROM: Her name will come to me in a minute. Anyway, I remember my first meeting with Reed Hundt was, after having asked for this meeting for several weeks, they decided that they would take all the people in the cable industry who’d been asking to see Hundt. There were about seven of us who went in. We were given one-half hour the day before Christmas Eve at about 6:00 p.m. to come in and talk to him. It was basically like, “Fine. I’ll have a meeting with you, but I really don’t want to have a dialogue. I don’t want a relationship. I’m working with the consumer groups and the Congress, and we’ll fix the cable industry.” So that wasn’t a great start. If you look at it, he’d been told very clearly by members of Congress, particularly in the wake of what had happened after the 10% cut and prices going up, “We expect you to not have this happen again.” I’m sure he probably had a comparable meeting with Ed Markey that I did. I never asked Reed this later but the phone probably jumped on Ed’s desk a little when Reed came in to meet him too. So we got off to a pretty rocky start. Of course, the first step was this further 7% cut which rocked Wall Street. It clearly bit deep into the muscle of the industry at that point. But as time went on, I think he began to appreciate that there was something about that second wire into the home. More broadly, like the vice president, he was interested in promoting competition. We were able to open up a dialogue which was really sort of a next step of the rehabilitation process – to begin to paint a vision about why Congress should care about rehabilitating its relationship with the cable industry, why would it matter in terms of consumers, in particular the question of competition to the phone companies and new media and local telephone service and things none of us could even foresee at the time. These things began to be discussed in 1994. That was really the opportunity we had with Hundt at that point, I think, was to say, “Look, there is a vision out here of a new cable industry with a second wire into the home to compete with the telephone companies, that can do more in terms of interactive services, that can really bring to life this new telecommunications revolution that you and the vice president are interested in. And the first thing you have to do is get your heel off of our throat so that we can invest.” And he began to engage in listening. He spent a lot of time. I remember one night he invited Brian Roberts to come down for dinner, just the two of them, at his home in Washington. He started to travel to visit with some cable executives. He and I began to spend some time, and he began to listen some. Then he opened up a dialogue with us coming out of the NCTA convention in 1994 in which he had a process in which he liberalized the rate regulation rules then in the early fall of 1994 that then allowed people to begin to add channels and raise rates and begin to work our way out of this. One of the key meetings at that time, in fact, was a dinner (that he refers to briefly in the book that he wrote earlier this year) at the New Orleans NCTA convention in 1994 that I arranged during which he listened quite carefully. Again, he’s a very smart man. There was Reed and his confidant, Blair Levin, me, John Hendricks, Amos Hostetter, and then Steve Rattner and Gerald Hassel from Bank of New York. We had a dinner conversation that probably went 3-4 hours in which we talked about why it was important to get some flexibility in our core business so we could raise the capital to invest and here’s what we were going to build if we could do it. Amos and John were very articulate in terms of painting the vision about what could be built. Steve and Gerald were very factual and very persuasive about what the investment community needed in terms of the industry being able to do that. Reed, to his credit, listened and engaged, challenged, had a good debate. But that dinner and the dialogue that went after that really was the start of the process of changing what happened at the FCC.
SOUTHWICK: There was kind of some critical decisions in terms of the industry at that time as it became clear that there would be another effort by Congress to rewrite the Telecommunications Act.
SOUTHWICK: Can you tell me a little bit about how that process evolved and how the industry decided what its role in that would be?
ANSTROM: Two things happened in 1994 that I think were very significant. First was that Congress was beginning to revisit the Telecommunications Act really because of the classic tension between the long distance companies and the Bell operating companies. The Bell operating companies had a long-standing desire to get into long distance, and the long distance companies desired to keep them out obviously. So there was legislation to look at that that was considered during 1994. We put our toe into the water on that debate. None of the issues about dealing with our core business were dealt with at all, but we came to the table, and it gave us an opening to come back to members of Congress. I can remember distinctly a meeting I had with Jack Danforth, at which I went in and said, “Look, I know you have no reason to trust our industry. I know you have bad feelings in terms of the debate we’ve just gone through on cable regulation. I’m here to tell you this is a new day and we want to work with you on crafting a telecommunications bill because we believe, ultimately, that we’re going to be telephone providers too. We want to work constructively with you on that.” It surprised people. But we were able to reengage, in a constructive way, about how we could move forward in that process. The second thing that happened then, privately, was at an NCTA Executive Committee retreat in the late summer of 1993. The CEOs of the largest 7-8 companies meet every summer or early fall and talk about 1 ½ days about the bigger picture, public policy: where do we want to go, what kind of agenda should we be working on. It then gets brought back to the board. But we get some “big picture” pieces in place that we can then work from, in terms of the details, during the year. I put on the table the proposal that we should abandon our opposition to telephone company entry into cable. The Executive Committee agreed that that was the right decision to take. We then proceeded to have a dialogue throughout the industry in 1994 to really build a consensus.
SOUTHWICK: Why was that a good position to take?
ANSTROM: A couple of reasons. One is it went to proving we had listened and learned from the 1992 experience. The telephone companies obviously wanted to be in a position to enter the cable industry and offer more competition in cable. It’s a very compelling argument and ultimately, as competition was beginning to come into the local telephone business, hard to argue that they shouldn’t be able to diversify. So in terms of having a good argument… My view about working with Congress is that if your argument is weak, you’d better find a new argument. In the end, substance does matter in Washington. So we were really in an increasingly indefensible position and one that we weren’t going to be able to sustain. Rather than trying to defend it forever, as we had during the re-regulation debate, let’s move our position. It had the happy coincidences of also then enabling us to open up some issues that we wanted to: if there’s going to be additional competition to the cable industry from the telephone companies, then we should be able to have some additional flexibility in our core business in terms of some deregulation and some other things. The only rationale for regulating us is that we’re a monopoly. Well, we’re getting competition. We shouldn’t be regulated. That ultimately became a key element of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which became law in January 1996, and I believe, formed the blueprint for the reinvention of the cable industry, as we moved beyond analog television.
SOUTHWICK: Which did what?
ANSTROM: Well, for cable it did several things that were absolutely critical. First of all, it deregulated the industry, with a three-year trigger from enactment in 1996 to fully deregulating the industry in 1999.
SOUTHWICK: In terms of rates?
ANSTROM: In terms of rates. This, of course, stabilized the investment climate at that point. It enabled cable operators to lay out business plans with investment in which they could show the bankers that they would be able to get a return. That was absolutely critical. The second thing it did was to open up the local telephone business to competition and really gave cable sort of a “most favored position” in that. And finally, it largely -although we’re obviously still seeing some of this debated in litigation going on around “open access” – deregulated the cable industry’s provision of high speed internet services. All those things were incorporated in the 1996 Act. If you look at that, it’s really the blueprint for the new cable industry.
SOUTHWICK: Were there implementation features of that act that had to be worked with you as passed?
ANSTROM: It was passed in January 1996. There were many, many FCC rule makings and some litigation going on, but there’s a very intensive period after the enactment of the act. The cable rate deregulation provisions were pretty straight-forward, but there were some nuances there – obviously a good deal of rule making around the terms of getting into the telephone business, and of course the on-going debate over forced access and whether the ’96 Act really gives the FCC the authority and rationale to regulate cable’s provision of high-speed internet services. We’ve been four years at this and nothing has happened yet. I still believe the ’96 Act ultimately will prove to give the cable industry protection on that regard as well.
SOUTHWICK: You made efforts to reach out to Congress, which you talked about. But you also, it seemed to me, made efforts to reach out to the industry itself. I can remember you at small state trade associations, which probably no NCTA president had ever attended before. Was that a conscious effort on your part and what was the reasoning behind it?
ANSTROM: Absolutely. Coming back to where we found ourselves in late ’93 – early ’94, one of the very highest priorities for me was to reunify our industry. One of the ways to do that, obviously, is to take a lot of time to be out listening to people, to be available to people. There probably is not a state or regional association meeting I didn’t go to. I spent a lot of time going and visiting cable companies in terms of visiting with senior executives or going to meetings of general managers or whatever. I wanted to show the flag and communicate the message of what we were trying to achieve and secondly to listen and make sure that what we were doing in Washington was related to what was important to the businesses. I took that as a very high priority in terms of really trying to build lots of relationships inside the industry and to reunify our industry so that in Washington we could speak with one voice. As you know, if a trade association is going to be effective in Washington, when I sit down with a member of Congress and say, “The cable industry can agree to this,” that member of Congress then needs to know that that means something and that he or she is not going to hear two days later from the lobbyists for one of our companies, “Well, Decker told you that but our company has sort of a slightly different point of view.” One of the things that was very gratifying during the ’96 Act is that we were able to speak with one voice. It was much more effective in terms of our ability to negotiate successfully in the ’96 Act.
SOUTHWICK: The small operators did form their own organization. How did you react to that?
ANSTROM: I was very comfortable with them. I’ve always been comfortable with the idea that there are lots of different constituencies in the cable industry and that they have their own specialized needs and their own particular agendas, whether it was committees or groups inside the NCTA or CTAM or the small operators groups or whatever. The fact that people are prepared to spend time and energy to get connected to the policy process, to spend time with the media, to tell our story – anyone who’s willing to spend time to do that – I really don’t care a lot how they’re organized. What I would worry about…. And again part of the outreach that I spent a lot of time on was that we try, as much as possible, privately to understand what each other’s agendas are, not to contradict one another unless we absolutely have to and where possible to work together so that one plus one is three. I think largely we were able to do that. There were some issues with the small cable operators involving programmers willingness to deal with a Co-op so that they could get more preferred programming rates that were legitimate issues. I was able to work very successfully with Mike Pandzik and others in terms of encouraging some programming companies to deal with the Co-op that reduced some of their need to come to Washington to look for legislative relief on that. That was time well spent. A lot of what I did, Tom, in the end when there were industry disputes – and I think it’s an important role for NCTA – is to try to keep people focused on the fact that if we have business disputes inside the cable industry, it’s much better to resolve them privately than to bring them to Washington. No matter how attractive it may seem sometimes to bring a business dispute to Washington, it never turns out the way you want it to. If operators think the programmers charge too much, bringing that issue to Washington isn’t going to turn out the way the operators want it to. Or if the programmers are worried about a gate-keeper role that the operators have, believe me it will never turn out the way the programmers want it. It’s much better to try to work these things out privately. I think largely we were pretty successful in that.
SOUTHWICK: The programmers, at one point, were talking about having their own organization.
ANSTROM: When I became president in early ’94, that discussion was still actively underway again as the fallout of the debate around the ’92 Act, given those operator/programmer tensions. I’ll always be grateful to Tony Cox, chairman of ShowTime and chair of the Satellite Network Committee in NCTA, who stood up and said, “Decker and I have worked with each other. He has said to me that he’s going to reach out and involve programmers more in NCTA, he’s going to listen to us, he’s going to give us a platform. Let’s give him a chance.” I’ll never forget what Tony did.
SOUTHWICK: Was the NCTA Board restructured in some way or was this just informal?
ANSTROM: We added a few more programmers to the board, and the rest of it was informal. Frankly, it was as simple as going to New York regularly to meet with people, to take people’s phone calls, to be available. The other thing we did – and we were very direct – I remember meeting with Frank Biondi when he was at Viacom. We went up to see Frank with Tony and others and to say, “Look, if Viacom has a deep disagreement about something NCTA is going to do, then NCTA won’t take a position on that issue. Viacom has as much right to affect NCTA’s ability to take a position on issues as TCI does.”
SOUTHWICK: And you could make that promise?
ANSTROM: I made it – and I was able to hold it. The good news is, we never reached a position with Viacom where that became an issue. But I felt I could make that promise because in the end, I didn’t think we’d ever get to that position. But if we did, again, we can’t, from NCTA’s perspective, ignore companies’ major interests. The notion that big companies with huge assets at stake are going to participate in NCTA and then be overruled by people – why would any of us participate in an organization like that? So I thought it was a fair thing to do and the operators were comfortable with that. We talked about that very thoroughly. I was very fortunate in that first year to have Dick Roberts as Chairman of NCTA. He, by nature, is a listener and a healer and someone who brings people together. I also had the support of Bob Miron who has always been a great counselor to me and others, Tony who was very involved in terms of trying to heal some of these rifts, and the major operating companies who were also enormously successful in terms of really pulling together on this. They could have gone on their own as well and they didn’t.
SOUTHWICK: You did something else that was very unusual – and that is, you brought somebody who was a cable operator into Washington. How did that decision come about?
ANSTROM: Bringing June Travis to NCTA was the smartest thing I ever did. I had known June who had been on the NCTA Board when I worked at NCTA. I had come to watch how well she moved in and out of all the different constituencies of the cable industry, a person without her own agenda who worked well with the big operators because she had been part of one once. She worked well with the small operators because she was one. She worked well with the programmers because she had always dealt fairly with them as president of Rifkin. She dealt well with the suppliers because that’s just the kind of person she was. She had an uncommon amount of insight into our business, enormous integrity, great common sense, great people skills. What NCTA I thought had always lacked was somebody who had run a business and who could bring that perspective into the things that we did. So when we were crafting something on legislation or making a case to the FCC or talking to the press, that person could say, “You know, that’s really not exactly the way it works,” or “the cable operator’s going to look at this a little differently or we should think about it this way.” She was very effective in that regard. She was also a great leader and role model for our staff. The unheralded role she really played was the back channel relationships that she had as we were trying to pull this industry together. June could get on the phone late at night, find somebody, and say, “Wait a minute. We really need you to reconsider that price increase you’re considering,” or “We need you to sign up for this on-time customer service guarantee,” – all the ways. Because of the kind of person June is, she could make all that come together. She was really my partner in every single thing we did at NCTA. It was that business experience and the trust and confidence that people had in June that, to the extent NCTA was successful during the period of time that June and I were both there, June really gets more of the credit. She really was the person that if an operator was unhappy that we were jawboning about not doing something, about prices, or that you have to be part of this on-time guarantee, they could sort of grind their teeth about Decker, the politician. But they couldn’t grind them about June who was saying, “I know you know how to do that and you know it’s the right thing to do.” June played a particularly critical role in several major initiatives, including the development of the industry’s on-time customer service guarantee program, and the industry’s commitment in 1996 to bring high speed Internet access to every school free-of-charge. She rounded up the industry support for both, and she built a lasting sound relationship between NCTA and CableLabs.
SOUTHWICK: Do you think every cable operator should come to Washington for a little while?
ANSTROM: That would be a great action. I’d love to see more… Frankly, I’d love to see more people in the industry come in and out of NCTA because I think it’s a great learning experience for them, and I think it makes NCTA much stronger. I think having someone with the business insight and perspective that June had was really effective. You asked earlier about what it is that made NCTA different among trade associations. I think, when I look at NCTA in the ’90’s as opposed to the phone companies, the phone companies burned up enormous political capital in Washington on getting into the cable industry. They had sort of a broad, economic perspective about why they wanted to do that. We’re now sitting here in the year 2000 and virtually none of them are offering cable service. I’ve always thought that what happened was that there was a disconnect between the Washington lobbyists and strategists (who saw this as a good political thing, and by the way, if we can get this bill passed, we get a higher bonus this year in terms of whatever we’re doing) and the business decision-makers in the telephone companies. You think of all the political capital they burned up on that. I’m really pleased that when I go back and look at what we did in the 1996 Act, the Telecommunications Act, everything we did in that Act was tightly focused on what did the business need. There were a lot of other rabbits we could have chased in the ’96 Act, but we didn’t because we were very focused on what matters to the businesses – and June played an absolutely essential role in making sure that happened.
SOUTHWICK: How did your decision, then, come about to leave? You had, I assume in the back of your mind, the same desire you’d had before.
ANSTROM: As we discussed, I had decided in the summer of 1993 that it was time to leave. After the 1996 Act passed, I really viewed that I needed to stay with the industry through the deregulation date of March 1999. If I could sort of see us through that period of time, my job would had been done and it was time to have somebody else with some fresh ideas and a new perspective on how you take cable to the next level in Washington to come in. So, once we got past that deregulation date that had been set in the ’96 Act, that was time for me to go look for something else. You’re right. I sort of made that decision in ’93 and had deferred it and had a great experience at NCTA and loved the opportunity to be part of what got accomplished. But by that point I was ready. The phone rang one day, and it was my friend Dubby Wynne who is the CEO of Landmark. He said that he and his friend, Dick Roberts, they’d since sold TeleCable – Landmark had, wanted to come have dinner with me.
SOUTHWICK: Dick was where at that point?
ANSTROM: Dick was on the Landmark board, retired but on the board. One thing led to another, and I’ve been at the Weather Channel one year.
SOUTHWICK: What intrigued you about the Weather Channel other than your relationship with Dick Roberts and Dubby Wynne?
ANSTROM: There were a couple of things. I wanted to work in an environment where obviously I have a lot to learn coming out of the experience I’ve had about how to run a business. So being in an environment with people I trusted, people I respected, people I knew I could learn a lot from, people who had values that really mattered was the most important thing to me. Dubby, a dear friend and colleague for 10 years and also on the NCTA Board, and Dick both met that criteria. As I learned more about Landmark, it was really the kind of company I wanted to be part of. Secondly, the notion of that we were private was very attractive to me, having watched cable companies who’ve gone public (there are some great cable companies out there and it was a right decision in terms of raising capital). But the ability to not be preoccupied with the stock price every 12 minutes and to have to run your business based on what you’re going to say on the next quarterly report, to be able to think longer term, to make longer term strategy, planning and business decisions appealed to me. Finally, the Weather Channel really was perfect for me as I began to think about it. Having worked a lot at creating this policy framework in the ’96 Act that was really premised on competition and new media platforms, where better to be than at the Weather Channel, where we’ve built this wonderful brand, in partnership with our cable operator colleagues. Now we take that brand and this product – weather information is perfectly suited for that – to the Internet, to digital cable, to wireless internet, to all of these new technologies that are out there. So the opportunities have helped play a part in that effort and that was really attractive as well.
SOUTHWICK: And you’ve been here a little over a year?
ANSTROM: A little over a year.
SOUTHWICK: What kinds of things are you doing to change this company?
ANSTROM: We’re working really hard in terms of building weather.com, our weather Internet business, which is one of the 25 leading web sites in the world, 300,000,000 page views a month, 14,000,000 unique visitors, preferred relationships in terms of being the weather provider for AOL, Yahoo, others. So we’re really building a great Internet business. We’ve moved quickly out and in one year have snared the weather flag for each of the wireless internet platforms – Verizon, AT&T, Nokia, palm pilots across the board. We’re beginning to build a really interesting 24-hour-a day business called “Weather Scan Local” by the Weather Channel, perfectly suited for cable operators, digital cable needs. We’re building interactive television programming as the weather provider now for DirectTV’s interactive television launch, AT&T’s interactive television launch, Source Media, AOL TV. So we’re moving out across that. We’re never looking back, Tom. We’re building a radio syndication business, branded the Weather Channel. It’s in many of the major markets in the country. So there’s a lot of development in addition to improving the analog cable network. There have been a number of changes in the past year. We’ve got a great leadership team here and we think there’s a lot we can continue to do to make the Weather Channel what it is – one of the most respected and valued brands by consumers – that cable operators have to offer. That’s been fun as well.
SOUTHWICK: International expansion has been on there.
ANSTROM: We’re also moving internationally. We have two networks in Latin America. I think particularly with our interactive and Internet business, we have lots of opportunities that we’re exploring very vigorously now in terms of moving internationally.
SOUTHWICK: The only other thing I can think of, in terms of your tenure at the NCTA that we didn’t touch on was there was a programmer who was chairman of NCTA during your time as president.
ANSTROM: A fellow down the street here.
SOUTHWICK: Yes, one of your neighbors.
ANSTROM: Exactly. Ted Turner was a great chairman to work with. Again, that was one of the changes that happened with the full support of the board. We had programmers who chaired several NCTA conventions as well. Ted was a great chairman to work with, very focused, very supportive of what we were trying to do, always available. He was a great chairman. If we had a message we wanted to get out to the public, simply letting the media know that Ted Turner was available for a conference call – boy, people would be there. Ted was great. He couldn’t have been more supportive. He chaired the convention that was really, I think, the symbolic healing point for the cable industry – the 1996 NCTA in Los Angeles. The featured speaker was Vice President Al Gore who came and made peace with the cable industry. The next day the featured speaker was FCC Chairman Reed Hundt who also publicly made peace with the cable industry. That was about as close to getting the circle closed as one could get. And Ted played a big role in making all that happen.
SOUTHWICK: Terrific. Anything else you wanted to touch on that we didn’t hit?
ANSTROM: I think, for me really, being at NCTA for more than 10 years was just an enormous privilege. I had an opportunity to really work with and learn from the remarkable people who have built this industry. I’ll leave someone out if I start naming them all so I won’t start down that road. This really is an extraordinary American story about the cable industry and people from all different backgrounds, all different experiences, who risk everything to build this business. If you think about the impact that we’ve had, in terms of changing the way people learn, the way they communicate, what we’ve done in the schools, what we’ve done with C-SPAN, it’s truly extraordinary. You look at where this industry is today and what we can do in the next decade with the next generation of leadership that’s moving through the industry, it’s really extraordinary.
SOUTHWICK: Great. Thank you very much.
ANSTROM: Thank you.