Commentary by Curtis Symonds I’m going to describe something. Stop me when you think you know what it is. It is a cable initiative. It has been around for a few years, is funded by member corporations, and its mission is to expose talented young people to a career in cable, then recruit them. The program provides both scholarships and intern opportunities at sponsoring companies. And while it is open to many people, it places a particular emphasis, and has had its greatest impact, on young men and women of color. Wrong. It’s not the Kaitz Foundation. And no, it’s not NAMIC. It’s not even the T. Howard Foundation. It is a very cool little program that, if you’re like me, is flying well below your radar. It originated in 1997 and is still operated by the South Carolina Cable Television Association. The initiative is called "Cable Television Scholars", and in just eight years has provided over $500,000 help send needy kids to college – kids who may or may not ultimately join the cable industry, but kids who otherwise might have never had the chance. One of the biggest beneficiaries is South Carolina State, a predominantly black school that, like so many small institutions, is fighting a never-ending battle against the spiraling cost of running a college in a dirt poor state. And, trust me, these are special kids. Two of this year’s "Scholars" are Le Tamra Dixon, a sophomore majoring in industrial engineering who is not only raising a child, but who has earned a cumulative GPA of 3.0. Then there’s Sean Sims, a sophomore football player good enough to be recruited by Ole’ Miss, who is now majoring in computer science. Sean’s GPA is 3.7 and after graduation wants to get his doctorate in either artificial intelligence or the theory of computation. I swear, I’m not making this up. How this whole program started was due to some (perhaps, predictable) anti-competitive pricing by the phone companies. These pricing practices led to a couple of lawsuits by a coalition of groups, including the SCCTA. The telcos ultimately lost and as part of the settlement were forced to cover the association’s legal fees. This, according to SCCTA foundation executive director Claude Horne, amounted to "several million dollars." And as he said, "The purpose of this association is not to sit around with million of dollars in our coffers, so we determined we’d set up a foundation." I am writing about this today for two reasons. I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit is due, and wish to acknowledge not just the SCCTA, but some of its more prominent members, like Time Warner, Charter, Comcast and Comporium Communications (whose EVP of operations, Bill Beaty, is also president of the foundation). But I also think this program is the kind of program this industry needs – a grassroots initiative that uses local cable resources and to help local people. I’m still of the school of thought that, even as consolidation marches forward, the strength of this industry will always be its ability to think, look and act local. And when you can do that and help a kid in need, all the better. Horne told a colleague earlier this week, "I try to tell these kids that if you don’t like cable television, that’s fine. We’re just trying to educate you and make you a productive member of South Carolina society. But if you have a successful two-summer internship, when it’s over, I promise you won’t have to be sending out resumes. You’ll have a job." He then added, "Not to sound clich�d, but if there’s a million points of light out there, we’re just trying to be one of them." Symonds says, in cable’s battle for the hearts and minds of consumers, never forget that such battles always are won one mind at a time. Curtis Symonds can be reached at

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