One year ago, Kyle McSlarrow was a cable neophyte, joking at National ’05 in San Francisco that he finally figured out that a la carte is not about food. As he prepares to address the convention in Atlanta this year, McSlarrow is conversant on everything from network neutrality to pole attachments. Last month we asked NCTA’s president/CEO to discuss his first year on the job and his expectations for National. What will be the vibe at the National Show? McSlarrow: I expect it will be positive and determined. I think people understand that we are in a dogfight across the board. I don’t think anybody’s curled up in the fetal position about it. What are you looking forward to most? McSlarrow: The gaming and voice arenas will have a snazzy appeal. Over the last year, there’s been an increase in excitement about the commercial business space. It’s hard for me to say which one is going to stand out. I almost always get these things wrong. Who’s going to be talked about more in Atlanta, Rupert Murdoch or Ed Whitacre? McSlarrow: Well, News Corp. will be represented at the show, so maybe in one way or another it’ll be Murdoch. When did you make the decision to not have the show in New Orleans? McSlarrow: The day when it became evident just what a disaster had befallen New Orleans, I was sitting in Gerry Laybourne’s office with Tom Rutledge and Barbara York, planning the New Orleans convention. Within about a month, it became evident that New Orleans did not have the ability to put a show on. We thought it was important to show support for New Orleans, so we agreed that would commit to come back to New Orleans in ’08. We’re already committed to Las Vegas in ’07. How will the show be different from last year? McSlarrow: It’s likely to be hotter than last year in San Francisco. Atlanta is a great showcase for cable because we have important companies represented there. Comcast is the local service provider. It’s the headquarters for Cox. There are going to be tours of Turner and Scientific-Atlanta and the local systems. And the Braves play Monday night. You certainly know more about cable this year. McSlarrow: In April 2005, I was just trying to spell "telecommunications." There’s not an issue that I deal with that’s not interesting or intellectually fascinating, even if it’s painful. Really? Pole attachments are interesting? McSlarrow: Pole attachments might not be the most intellectually fascinating thing (laughs). But it is also a critically important thing to the industry. They all fit into this puzzle in interesting ways. How would you grade cable’s legislative performance in the last 12 months? McSlarrow: Think about where we were in March of last year. The telephone companies were saying that they would pass video franchising in 2005. It didn’t happen. The broadcasters said their highest ’05 priority was multicasting. That didn’t happen. The original version of the House Digital Transition Bill contained a dual-carriage requirement indefinitely on cable that ultimately was taken out. Pols in both the Senate and House, literally on the first day of my job, were saying they thought indecency laws should apply to cable. That didn’t happen. On the other hand, we can’t be under any illusion. It’s not like we "won" anything. It goes on and on. What changes have we seen at NCTA as a result of your strategic review? McSlarrow: We made some organizational tweaks. We also wanted to support an ongoing campaign, which turned out to be "A Great American Success Story." And then we really wanted to ramp up on the grassroots side. How has NCTA’s focus changed? McSlarrow: Our full priority now is public policy. You can almost justify anything that NCTA does by saying that it has some connection to public policy, like the TCA tour, which we used to run. I tried to get more policy makers involved with how our program networks show their wares. I decided that CTAM was a better place for the tour. But NCTA took over some marketing functions. How does that fall under the public policy mission? McSlarrow: There’s a lot of confusion. I don’t want to market products and services. That’s what CTAM does, and they should keep doing it. We’re doing a public policy branding campaign. It’s about making people appreciate the cable industry for what it’s done for America in an environment where most policy makers have no clue. When I walked into this job, I was stunned by how negative people were. I’ve been very honest with everybody in the industry and every CEO. I’m sure they were shocked by it. They couldn’t have been too surprised. McSlarrow: I’m not certain they knew just how bad it was on Capitol Hill. I’m confident that it’s retrievable. There’s no real animus to the cable industry. People by and large want to be fair to us. But they just simply did not know what we were doing, what we had done for their communities. I was surprised you didn’t replace staffers with Republicans. McSlarrow: I’m not a slash-and-burn guy. Unless you have a real bad situation, which wasn’t the case here. The mark of leadership is to take the talent you have and if you want to go in a different direction, your job is to lead them and not just bring in new people.