CT Editor Jonathan Tombes recently spoke with Mark Dzuban, newly appointed president and CEO of the SCTE, about his background, experiences, and visions going forward. An edited transcript of that conversation follows:
You started in this industry with Vikoa, but your history goes back farther, right?
Yes. Although I started in 1968, my father was part of building tube distribution equipment in 1953 or 1954 for the franchises in eastern Pennsylvania. He worked for Westinghouse. I was a kid and just observing, never thinking that many years later I would be a member of the industry. A few months after I got out of the Army in late 1967, I joined Vikoa.
Could you say a word about your military service?
My family has a history of serving, so I volunteered for the draft in the winter of 1966. I didn’t want to go to basic training in the summer and preferred two years to four. I was shipped to Korea supporting Combat Logistics. I was in a combat zone for 16 months, supporting the Koreans in Vietnam, or KMAG (Korean Military Assistance Group).
Back to Vikoa, what did they make?
Originally, it was tube distribution equipment, and then it transitioned to solid-state technology. As new semiconductors became available, my job was to replace the old equipment with expanded channel capacity and higher performance products. It was truly pioneering work. One area I enjoyed was ferrite material development and its use in associated devices. I have a patent that applies to the use of ferrite in protecting broadband networks.
Would that be related to the ferrite cores in splitters?
Yes, ferrites have a pretty neat quality in the sense that they support broadband impedance transformation. They also have a quality called "hysteresis," where they can limit a high level signal by saturating the core material. Engineered properly, that can be a device that can limit destructive interference back into the network.
So what’s the right mix is between the ‘Society’ and ‘Engineering’ parts of the SCTE?
I believe the request for me to join the SCTE team as president and CEO is a vote to enhance engineering activities and thinking across all segments of our membership. My background is based on applied science in the support of existing and emerging networks. Therefore, the Society will step up the engineering focus to drive standards, personal development, best practices and tools to operate and evolve our infrastructure.
But the Society is a community, and that fosters networking. There is valuable networking that provides thinking and discussion around technology and operations. That leads to another dimension for SCTE, one I call the business of engineering. That means the development of the skills and associated tools to be smart regarding the cost to build and operate these networks. There are a lot of moving parts that are above and beyond just fundamental nuts and bolts in the business of engineering.
What attracted you to this position?
When I was launched into cable, it was constantly changing. I like change and the challenge of the evolution of technology. Part of the value that I can add here is being able to get the SCTE to the next level and help build the business to adapt. This was an opportunity to apply experience from planning and building large infrastructure projects from an engineering and business perspective. I am elated to have the support of the industry decision-makers to get the job done.
What trends in vendor/MSO relations are you tracking?
You’re starting to see some new vendors in the market. Just look at some of the system implications in the emerging IP Networks: IMS, wireless, IPTV. Some innovators already have a foundation in the business, and there are new players trying to get traction. I think there’s a lot of interest in aligning with the new cable marketplace by more traditional communications vendors.
Also, this economy is driving cost reduction. How do you run a more efficient business to drive out cost? That falls under my theme of the business of engineering. It’s really a combination of traditional engineering and the sensitivity around the cost structure of our networks to optimize opex and capex.
One of the other pieces is intelligent networking and the introduction of more automation. Operations has frequently taken a back seat in the initial architecture thinking. So part of what I want to bring to the table is operation science and developing a path to intelligent networking and a path to improved customer satisfaction through technology.
Can you share some of your other professional milestones?
My tenure at AT&T was representing cable technology and architecture for the greater good of the cable industry. And my job at Bell Labs was to articulate how the cable networks can provide carrier levels of service so that AT&T could reconstitute its access using cable networks and partnerships. So what that did was, even outside of AT&T Broadband, stimulate the thinking and investment. I had significant budgets in the development of solutions for AT&T branded carrier services, which are now common to the industry for telephony and data.
I enjoyed cable franchising and building out networks. My job at Cross Country Cable was franchising and construction as the VP of engineering. Some memorable projects were franchising and building networks in Puerto Rico; that went to TCI, now Liberty, and in New Jersey, that are now Cablevision. I also constructed franchises in England, Spain and several Mediterranean islands, and I did development work in Iceland. One very interesting piece of my franchising experience was in Chicago. That now belongs to Comcast.
What about Cedar Point?
I was with Cedar Point for seven years. It’s been refit; a new team for the next generation. I started there with a set of view graphs and a prototype under construction. They now have nearly 5 million lines in the field. It’s a healthy company, and I feel like the dad whose kids have graduated college. Now with that mission complete, Dad’s going to do something else.
Any takeaways from the Canadian Summit?
I left Cedar Point on a Friday, and I was on my way to Canada on a Monday. What was good for me was being able to see the team in action. Words are one thing; action is something else. It gave me a lot of confidence. Canada was a great a success.
What are your hopes for the SCTE at the chapter level?
They are really the arms and legs of the membership. There is a lot of energy in the chapters, in which I hope to participate. I am planning to attend as many chapter events as I can. I’ve actually done some cold calling to chapter leadership, and I’m going to continue to do that. I want to make sure that I’m clearly engaged with the continued development and activities at the chapter level.
What about ET? What do you see as its main value now?
This is a year of change. We are working with our partners at NCTA and collaborating to drive value at ET. We are also focused on a successful Cable-Tec Expo in October. We are a diverse bunch and will adapt. And that’s another reason I came on, as well, as an agent of change, because change is a part of life.