I was deeply saddened when I received the news that Jim Mooney had passed away just before Christmas. As a 2013 inductee into the Cable Hall of Fame, I was looking forward to seeing him receive the honor at the NCTA Show in Washington D.C. But beyond that, I was also looking forward to some time to discuss his perspectives on the role of government and the expansion of the cable industry during his long tenure at NCTA. It was certainly a turbulent time, but it established the foundation for the modern cable industry we have today.
After receiving his law degree at NYU, Mooney went to Washington D.C. to pursue a job in public service. His star rose with Congressman John Brademas of Indiana, who eventually became the Majority Whip in 1976 and a powerhouse in the Democratic Party. Mooney established his impressive credentials with the leadership of the Party, and in 1980 he decided to seek a new path when Ronald Reagan won in a landslide and the power structure in Washington D.C. changed. As he sought advice on his next career move, he met Tom Wheeler, who was then the head of the National Cable Television Association. Wheeler was impressed with Jim’s notable credentials and invited him to join the staff during some of the more challenging times in cable.
In 1980, the industry was in the midst of what is commonly referred to as “The Franchise Wars.” The cable operators were moving into the big cities, cable programmers were delivering new alternatives to the established broadcasters, and the number of subscribers increased rapidly. At that time, Municipal governments asserted their perceived rights to regulate the cable industry at the local level and extracted some outrageous promises from the competing cable operators in exchange for a franchise in the community—many of which had absolutely nothing to do with the establishment of a cable business. Local governments saw a new source of revenue and things were quickly getting out of control. The NCTA worked hard to find some relief at a national level and their exemplary work resulted in the passage of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984. Mooney, who had played a significant role in shaping the legislation, succeeded Wheeler as head of NCTA in 1984.
Although the deregulation contained in the 1984 Act led to unprecedented innovation and growth of the industry, the damage done during the franchising period lingered. Some cable companies made promises they could not keep, some went out of business leaving others to pick up the pieces, and customer problems mounted as the industry adjusted to the new realities of running a cable business. The activity in Washington D.C. increased as well, and by the late 1980s, Mooney faced a new set of challenges with consumers and a Congress that was absolutely determined to bring on new regulation. The result was the Cable Television and Consumer Protection Act of 1992. Not long after, the Cable Telecommunications Act of 1996 dramatically altered the landscape once again and the cable business was never the same.
I am constantly amazed at the speed of change in the cable industry. Each generation of leaders must confront new difficulties as they arise and Jim Mooney certainly faced each challenge of his time with courage, commitment and integrity. We look for these exact traits during the Cable Hall of Fame selection process. Mooney stepped down as NCTA chief in 1993, but he set in motion the foundation for cable’s future and he was always an ardent advocate for its advancement. We will certainly remember Jim’s substantial contributions to the cable industry in June and we now join with his family in mourning his passing.
(Larry Satkowiak is president and CEO of The Cable Center, the nonprofit educational arm of the cable industry. The Center preserves cable’s enduring contributions to society, strengthens relationships between cable and academia and unites the industry around the advancement of exceptional customer service. www.cablecenter.org)