Sol Schildhause; Major Player In Cable TV

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 29, 2006

Sol Schildhause, 89, the first chief of the Federal Communications Commission's cable television bureau, who later became a lobbyist for the industry, died of congestive heart disease Sept. 15 at his home in Bethany Beach, Del. He also lived in Somerset.

Mr. Schildhause, a cable TV enthusiast since the mid-1960s, was a principal player in many of the regulatory battles over cable TV from its inception through the early 1990s. He was made the head of an FCC task force in 1966 assigned to address the backlog of requests by cable TV for permission to set up franchises.

The task force, which became a bureau, made progress until the industry's development was stalled in the late 1960s by disagreement over copyright issues. Mr. Schildhause wrote a 1972 regulatory turnabout that is said to have been a decisive moment in the cable industry's development.

In an oral history by the National Cable Television Center and Museum at Pennsylvania State University in 1991, Mr. Schildhause said it was in 1966 that he "began to believe that cable television was going to be a big force. I really did believe that. I sold myself on it from what I had seen. I knew that people were in love with television because I was in love with television, and I had watched it emerge. I was raised on radio, and when I first saw television I couldn't believe how wonderful it was. . . . I believe it even more today that we're still in the early stages of cable and it's here to stay."

After leaving the FCC in 1974, Mr. Schildhause was the managing partner of the D.C. office of the California law firm Farrow, Schildhause & Wilson. The firm influenced legislation that resolved a dispute between the cable and telephone industries over access to utility poles. It also found compromises that resulted in a revision of the copyright laws to settle the dispute over cable TV's use of broadcast TV's programming. The firm was also involved in the landmark case of Preferred Communications v. the City of Los Angeles , which challenged local franchising on the grounds that it was an unconstitutional interference with free speech.

Mr. Schildhause was born in New York City, attended New York University and graduated from the City College of New York. He worked briefly for the U.S. Post Office, then graduated from Harvard Law School in 1940.

He worked for the Department of Commerce, the Office of Price Administration and the Research Institute of America before joining the FCC in 1948. He briefly ran a radio station in Oklahoma in the mid-1950s but returned to the FCC within the year.

After his second retirement in 1993, Mr. Schildhause became a member of the board of the Media Institute and frequently intervened in court appeals and in proceedings before the FCC and the Food and Drug Administration on its behalf. Mr. Schildhause was past chairman of the cable TV committee of the American Bar Association's Section of Science and Technology Law and was a member of Cable TV Pioneers.

An enthusiastic one-wall handball player for most of his life, Mr. Schildhause won his last tournament at 77 in the National Capital One-Wall Tournament in Olney.

His marriage to Phyllis Sydell ended in divorce.

Survivors include his companion, Gail Beaumont of Arlington and Bethany Beach; three children, Susan Tash of Evanston, Ill., Richard Shieldhouse of Jacksonville, Fla., and Peter Schildhause of San Francisco; a sister; and six grandchildren.

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