On February 8, the Richard Nixon Foundation and Nixon Presidential Library / National Archives and Records Administration co-presented Launching the Telecommunications Revolution: The Story of the Office of Telecommunications Policy. This event was the fortieth Nixon Legacy Forum installment. Started in 2010, these forums are group oral history presentations that bring together archival documents with the people who produced them–creating a historical record of the Nixon administration.  

The latest Nixon Legacy Forum explored the little-known and less-appreciated White House Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP). Created by Reorganization Plan Number One in 1970, the office was tasked with eliminating burdensome regulations and introducing market-based opportunities to the American telecommunications industry in the 1970s—paving the way for satellite and cable television.

When President Nixon took office in 1969 there were only three television networks and only one company, AT&T, providing all telecommunications service except for video. This all changed when a young visionary named Clay “Tom” Whitehead created a revolution in human communication through his leadership of the OTP.  

Mr. Whitehead’s accomplishments include assembling a far-sighted team, whose members included Antonin Scalia, who would go on to serve on the Supreme Court and Brian Lamb, who would go on to be the founder of C-SPAN. This team paved the way for private enterprise and competition to change the telecommunications industry. With the support of President Nixon, the OTP created the open skies policy that opened satellites to private enterprises, deregulated cable television and broke up the monopoly held by AT&T.  As stated by Henry Goldberg, “There is a direct causative line between the Nixon administration’s telecom initiatives and the incredible telecommunications we have today with more choice than consumers can handle and more equipment than we can afford.” 

Christopher DeMuth, Moderator. Staff Assistant to the President, (1969-1970). Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under President Reagan (1981-1984). President of the American Enterprise Institute (1986-2008). Currently Distinguished Fellow in American Thought at the Heritage Foundation.

Henry Goldberg, Successor to Antonin Scalia as General Counsel of OTP. Founder and Senior Partner at Goldberg, Godless, Wiener and Wright. Widely regarded for many decades as the dean of telecom lawyers in Washington.

Thomas Hazlett, Formerly with AEI and the George Mason University Law School (now the Antonin Scalia Law School). Hugh H. Macauley Professor of Economics and Director, Information Economy Project, Clemson University. Former telecommunications columnist for The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Geoff Shepard, Domestic Council Associate Director, 1970-1975. Member of the Board of Directors, Richard Nixon Foundation.

Margaret Whitehead, Ph.D., spouse of Clay T. Whitehead, Director, Office of Telecommunications Policy, 1970-1974.

Watch here: