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Insight CTO to Hang Up His Slide Rule

Charlie Dietz, the long-time chief technology officer of Insight Communications Co. Inc. , is set to retire next Friday (January 11), but he may opt to keep his hand in cable through consulting gigs and board work. (See Insight CTO Retires.)

"I'd be open to both of those, realizing that it's a tough decision," Dietz told Cable Digital News earlier this week. "It's tough to leave this business cold turkey. I can't see myself just walking away and never getting a trade [publication] again."

But don't expect him to make any sudden moves. "I've promised my wife that we'd do some traveling. I want to utilize a lot of the free time for that," he says, noting that he won't be on the cable "show tour" for at least six months.

And the timing of his decision comes as no accident, coming just after Insight and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) closed a deal that reduced Insight's footprint by about 696,000 basic video subs, roughly half of its total before the transaction. (See Comcast Takes Control.)

"It's something I've been thinking about for a while," Dietz, 60, said of his retirement as CTO. "With the split of the systems, I felt that it was a good time to leave. The base platform is there."

According to an Insight spokeswoman, Insight plans to replace Dietz's position, but has not yet to make any final decisions.

Expect his replacement to apply a heavy focus on an area that other cable CTOs are grappling with on a daily basis: how to get more bang out of their bandwidth without enlisting forklift changes.

"The days of the hard upgrade are done," Dietz says. "That was the first 25 years of my career. I think the industry will continue to focus on optimizing on what we have."

That means everything from analog spectrum reclamation, node splits, switched digital video (SDV), and perhaps even advanced compression. (See Moto Plants Seeds for MPEG-4 and A Switch in Time? )

Although he's on the cusp of retirement, Dietz declined to spill the beans to us on which strategies Insight might look to in 2008 (hey, we tried).

"With the industry being as competitive as it is, we don't want to talk about anything until it's actually done," Dietz says.

Dietz, who has spent the better part of 11 years at Insight and started his cable career in 1969, first hooked up with MSO CEO and Vice Chairman Michael Willner in 1973 in New Jersey at what was then called Vision Cable Communications, back "when I was a college intern and he was climbing poles," Willner recalls, in a statement.

"It was Charlie who rebuilt our systems; it was Charlie who tied disparate technologies together as we acquired more cable systems; and it was Charlie who spearheaded our early technical efforts to diversity our product offering and enable us to offer our three product bundle," Willner adds. "He will be sorely missed."

Although Insight was not a top five MSO, that didn't stop the operator from taking leadership positions and dipping its toes in new technologies and deploying new services. It was among the first operators, for example, to deploy video-on-demand (VOD) and interactive television applications in the late 1990s. It was also an early cable adopter of circuit-switched telephone services, later migrating to an IP-based platform.

Dietz, like his colleagues, also had to take some significant challenges by the horn. In 2002, for example, he was charged with rebuilding the MSO's high-speed data network and migrating its cable modem customers to the new system over a three-month period when @Home went belly-up.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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