A day in the life of... Joseph Bowser, an associate in the telecommunications practice group at Arent Fox




Q: How does telecoms law differ from other business law?

A: The more typical business law issues tend to be covered by a collection of relatively well-established principles set up in the courts (at least in the US), which the courts are unlikely to change going forward.

When you’re offering advice on typical contract or employment issues, for example, the rules and boundaries are clear. Telecoms law, on the other hand, is a complex blend of statutory rules, agency orders and rules (at both the state and federal levels, which don’t always agree with one another), and judicial opinions, all trying to catch up with the new technologies and innovations in the telecoms markets.

International transactions can add a further layer of complexity. The additional layer of regulatory law – much of it springing from political values that may not be consistent over time – makes telecoms law a far more complex area to navigate and predict. That certainly makes practising telecoms law exciting, but I sympathise with clients who feel that telecoms law can be overcooked and served when the industry has already had dessert and coffee.

Q: What is the most challenging case you’ve worked on?

A: The FCC has yet to classify whether text messages are a telecommunications service or an information service, a determination that has far-reaching implications for those billions of messages that get sent every year while the FCC ponders that issue.

A major wireless carrier began blocking all of a particular mobile marketing company’s messages because of the content of one of its thousands of customers’ messages. Despite the legal void, and just before the hearing on our motion to enjoin the carrier’s blocking practice, we were able to broker a settlement with the carrier that left our client’s customers’ messages flowing again.

Q: With telcos constantly expanding into new business areas, how much has your role and the law changed since you first started?

A: The intellectual property, privacy, and emphasis on data over voice have certainly added new layers of complexity to our practice. When I started practising 10 years ago, privacy issues were rarely raised, but the cloud, data breaches and other issues have prompted clients to really begin to focus on these issues.

At the end of the day, we’re still always trying to help clients move their businesses in their natural directions, even in the face of an uncertain legal horizon. In a market driven by rapid technological evolution, that is one fact of life I don’t see changing.

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