Sol Schildhause, 89, telecommunications lawyer and pioneering cable government official, died in his sleep Sept. 15 in Bethany Beach, Del.
Schildhause was the first chief of the Cable TV Bureau--from 1966 to 1974. At the outset, it was not a bureau but a task force with an uncertain future. He worked to soften the FCC's treatment of the medium, citing an institutional bias against cable as a threat to broadcast TV. That often constituted liberally granting waivers of the hearings required for requests to deliver distant signals in the top 100 markets.
Schildhause was born in New York City, graduated from the City College of New York and was a J.D. graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was a member of Review. After a brief stint in private practice, Schildhause joined the FCC in 1947 and remained there--except for a brief stint as GM of KOMA(AM) Oklahoma City, of which he was part owner--until 1974, when he become managing partner of Farrow, Schilhause & Wilson.
Of his long advocacy for cable, which sometimes rubbed broadcast-friendly commissioners the wrong way, Schildhause once told B&C that it was, on one level his recognition that it was a promising technology, but that at heart it was a case of metabolism: "I'm very competitive. Whatever I do, I like to do well. If I have a job of helping to develop the cable industry, I'm going to do it."
Farrow, Schildhause & Wilson was involved in key cable-related cases, including resolving the fight between cable and telephone over access to poles and revision of copyright laws in the dispute over cable's retransmission of broadcast programming.
It also was involved in the landmark case of Preferred Communications vs. the City of Los Angeles, which challenged local franchising, with the firm arguing it was an unconstitutional interference with free speech.
The case was twice argued and reviewed in the Supreme Court, ending with those requirements upheld but with "enough judicial reasoning to sustain cable TV'Ss First Amendment entitlements and to keep alive the notion that local franchising is a questionable intrusion," Schildhause wrote after the decision.
After retiring from private practice in 1993 he spoke and wrote widely about government over-regulation of the media. He was a board member of the Media Institute in Washington, the Federal Communications Bar Association, Cable TV Pioneers and the Harvard Law School Association.
His daughter, Susan, also points out that he was an avid handball player, winning his last tournament at age 77.
Survivors include his sister, Hannah; three children, Susan, Richard, and Peter; six grandchildren; and longtime friend Gail Beaumont.