Feature

Telecommunications,
Media & Technology:
Regulatory Quarterbacking. Industry Leadership.

August 19, 2015

Whether you have questions about the outcome of the impending spectrum auctions on wireless broadband or the impact of looming telecom and media mergers, the Telecommunications, Media & Technology practice at Morgan Lewis has its finger on the pulse of the latest trends affecting your business. Our team of lawyers works with the benefit of historical context; over the last quarter century, we have been at the table in nearly every significant communications industry development in the United States and globally, representing clients with interests in a dynamic mix of competitive local services, Internet-based services and applications, wireless and spectrum issues, subsea cable matters, and other international ventures.

The team’s achievements on behalf of clients have been recognized broadly, including by Chambers USA (2011-2014), The Legal 500 (2010-2014), Best Lawyers in America (2010-2014), Chambers Latin America (2014), and Super Lawyers (2010-2014).

Partners Andy Lipman (who played a role in shaping pivotal provisions of the US Telecommunications Act of 1996) and Catherine Wang (whose policy work is instrumental in shaping FCC rules and policies regarding a variety of communications equipment and services) took some time to discuss the industry’s trending issues.

The communications industry is undergoing some critical changes in the United States and globally. Where do you see the biggest opportunities for clients in the next year?
One macro opportunity for telecommunications is its almost unimaginable future applications, particularly in the case of mobile communications and applications as an empowerment tool, used in e-health, wearable devices, banking, personal protection, machine-to-machine services, privacy, and so on. These new applications (and others already existing or on the drawing board), along with the exponential growth of video, is creating unprecedented demand for bandwidth in the US and globally. In turn, that demand  is fueling the quest for  near ubiquitous wireless and wireline broadband facilities, even in the most rural and remote areas. We are in the midst of this broadband explosion in all 50 states across the United States and in more than 100 countries.

What advantage do clients gain from working with a team as immersed in the rapidly converging areas of telecoms, media, and tech as yours?
We are enthusiastically assisting clients in constructing and developing new broadband transmission facilities—from submarine cables to rural cable networks to new satellite constellations—which is creating a plethora of new legal issues as these carriers interconnect and transact business among each other. Other clients are at the cutting edge of constructing a wide array of wireless networks or developing innovative radio equipment, advanced electronics or mobile applications in the Internet of Things. This extraordinary demand for better and faster video and data communications is fueling the mergers and acquisitions market for strategic buyers and private equity, both in the US and overseas. Our clients are established telecom, media and technology companies as well as new entrants that are in the forefront of this exciting growth and development.

In an increasingly interconnected world, what key regulatory changes or legislative actions are “top-of-mind” for your clients?
We are virtually unique among US and EU telecom-media practices in that we represent clients before the US FCC, before all 50 State Public Utility Commissions, and before regulatory agencies around the world. Often, our clients engage us to be their “regulatory quarterback” if they are seeking global or regional submarine cable or satellite licensing or a merger in dozens of countries. Many clients seek our help in launching novel technologies or services that involve laws and regulations of multiple countries. Telecom-media regulatory schemes globally are fundamentally changing as the industry is evolving from a top-down command-and-control monopoly model to a decentralized and highly competitive industry. Our lawyers have been in the forefront of this activity since the breakup of the Bell System and the drafting of the seminal 1996 US Telecom Act. For 35 years, our clients have engaged us to advocate for more deregulation in both legislative and regulatory bodies, while at the same time ensuring that there are protections for non-monopoly and non-facilities based providers. Other key legislative and regulatory developments globally include modernizing and enforcing laws governing   privacy, cybersecurity, and foreign ownership of core telecom and media infrastructure.

Would you describe an example of a complicated matter the team has handled in recent years and what you achieved for the client?
Our practice is well known for its creativity and industry leadership, as well as blending business and legal judgment. One illustrative example is our representation two years ago of the board of directors of a US-based telecommunications holding company and wireless services provider in making a high profile, difficult, and multi-faceted decision as to whether to be acquired by a multinational telecommunications and Internet corporation or by an American direct-broadcast satellite service provider. Over many months, we guided the company board on a wide range of wireless and wireline regulatory and legal decisions, which ultimately led to its merging with the multinational telecoms corporation. Our involvement was multifold, including advising the board and its financial advisors on policy, legal, regulatory, technology, spectrum, and other issues, both in the US and elsewhere. The American Lawyer recognized the transaction as its “Deal of the Year.”

For further reading:

Accessibility Standards for Equipment Covered By the Communications Act, March 3, 2015