Thakker Embraces New Challenges As NCTA CTO

The Internet & Television Association, CTO

By Noah Ziegler

With new waves of technology hitting companies seemingly every day, NCTA–The Internet & Television Association had a big decision to make following the departure of longtime CTO and SVP, Science & Technology William Check. The association landed on RIKIN THAKKER, who comes with a background in wireless and will lead NCTA members at a time when cable companies are embracing mobile. Cablefax spoke with Thakker about his vision for NCTA and his career up to his appointment. Below are edited excerpts of the conversation.

CABLEFAX: What drew you to NCTA?

RIKIN THAKKER: I was aware of NCTA’s mission and its contribution to the industry when I was with MMTC [the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council]. I’ve seen how it addresses some of the important topics ranging from rural broadband, to closing the digital divide and all the amazing innovation that goes with that. But when I learned about the opportunity, I knew that I had to jump on it because if I let it pass, I would regret it and it probably might not come back anytime soon.

CFX: What are your initial priorities?

RT: Getting to know our member companies better. I’m already having meetings with their CTO offices and planning to visit their technology hubs or centers. Also getting to know our partners, and I’m referring here to CableLabs, SCTE. There are some exceptional technical folks there who are working very closely with our member companies as well. For this particular office, I see internal stakeholders and external, so I’m also going to have meetings and work with the department heads internally to understand their expectations and the ongoing engagement they have with the technology office here that I’m leading now. I’m looking into attending some of the conferences and shows of our industry. The immediate one is going to be the CableLabs Small Market Conference that’s happening later this month. And at the bigger scale, SCTE’s Cable-Tec Expo in October as well. Not just to attend, but possibly contribute as well.

CFX: What do you see as your role as the CTO of an association?

RT: The main role is to keep an eye on the future technologies and how that will shape the future of connectivity and entertainment in general. When you’re CTO of a company, you’re going to stay focused on your company’s technology, technological advancements, your products, your services and your quality priorities. Then when you’re a CTO of an association, you are representing CTO offices of many member companies, and they have different products, they have different services and they’ll have different policy priorities as well. So as part of this role [as] CTO of an association, my job is to make sure that we enhance our member companies’ technical capabilities and showcase in different forms how they positively impact day to day lives of millions of Americans.

CFX: You have a seat at a lot of tables. How will that myriad of experiences help you guide NCTA’s stances on technology policies and standards?

RT: They enhance my ability to do my current job, frankly. At the FCC’s TAC, I was part of the 6G working group—and that engagement actually was based on my previous association [Wireless Infrastructure Association]. It’s not individual appointments. So I’m glad that NCTA also has a seat at the same committee and I’m glad that I’ll be able to actually continue my contribution there. NTIA’s CSMAC, that’s an individual appointment and I feel very honored and proud to be part of that committee. I sit on two different working groups there. One is the shared spectrum Working Group and the other one is 6G. This federal advisory committee has allowed me to be among the best and brightest and a very diverse group of SMEs who share a common vision and that is to help the US maintain its leadership in connectivity solutions and innovation. As for the University of Maryland, this is my 13th year now. I love to teach. I love to give back to the students. The programme where I teach actually allows the faculty members like me who come from the industry to bring our industry experience practices into the classroom, and they don’t have to follow a textbook. Instead, we can create our own lesson modules that work in industry. Students love it. The industry also loves the fact that the students are ready from day one. I learn a lot from my interactions with students. It keeps me young.

CFX: When you were at MMTC, you were active in bridging the digital divide with a focus on advocating for equal opportunity. How far have things come in that regard since you left in 2020?

RT: My experience there was invaluable. It introduced me to the inner workings of policy and advocacy efforts. The mission there at MMTC, and still, is very noble. In fact, through MMTC, I was selected to be part of FCC’s BDAC—the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee—and many of the recommendations we produced for the FCC, whether it was model codes for states or model codes for municipalities, they were adopted by the FCC. Also, I was appointed to be the co-chair of the broadband training and workforce working group there. And we’re able to actually incorporate many of the Equal Opportunity priorities of MMTC into our recommendations there as well.

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