It’s a David and Goliath story, NewWave’s VP of customer care Greg Lathum will admit, but it takes some prodding before he’ll do so. He’s too modest, too polite to boast that his chairmanship of the Tennessee Cable Telecommunication Association has struck a blow for small and independent operators. "Greg got right in there and made sure independents’ voices were heard," ACA VP/COO Rob Shema says.
With Comcast and Charter dominating cable’s landscape in the Volunteer State, you’d expect those MSOs to control the TCTA. On a practical level, executives at independents often wear so many hats they don’t have time to be away from the office to serve on industry boards.
Yet Lathum’s done such a good job that he’s paved the way for other independent operators. "I think you’ll see a rotation," with execs from MSOs and smaller operators in the top job, he says. We asked Lathum how he makes sure independents get their say and why it’s important that they do.
CableFAX: How do you ensure that everyone, even independent operators, has a voice?
Lathum: I have been on two other industry boards. That experience helped me understand the goals, dynamics and direction of the TCTA. Our wonderful president/executive director Stacey Briggs also helps a lot. She understands the importance and differences between [large and small operators] and how to reach amenable solutions. Our philosophy is that no one has all the answers; collaboration and diversity give us the perspective we need for success.
CableFAX: What issues did TCTA handle during this session?
Lathum: State legislators are very active in Tennessee and our competitors are well-funded. We had to play offense and defense to make sure we stayed on top of the changing political dynamic and the activities of our competitors. Our legislative session just ended without tax increases or municipal overbuild expansion. We had a great session and got what we needed in telecommunications deregulation and no changes in the law that could have really hurt us. In fact we had about 50 bills filed that could have seriously influenced cable one way or another. The lesson is we can never let our guard down.
CableFAX: Was it daunting when you first became chairman, since you were from NewWave and not Comcast?
Lathum: I am fortunate in that our CEO at NewWave, Jim Gleason, has always urged staff to participate in industry associations. When we obtained subscribers in TN in 2003, I immediately put my name in the hat to serve. This gave me the opportunity to meet other board members and get a solid foundation. When it was my time to serve as chairman, I was welcomed.
CableFAX: Any advice for executives at independents who are considering a state association office in a state where large MSOs dominate?
Lathum: I would encourage any interested person to participate in a state association. The impact you can have on the business is amazing. I have gained tremendous knowledge about state legislation and its potential. I also have a better perspective on recognizing trends and have enjoyed getting to know other industry people who also know that working in tandem matters… our involvement ensures that our voice is heard.
In Tennessee, NewWave has 7,600 basic and 1,400 digital subs; 2,900 Internet and 1,800 telephone subs.