Telecommunications

Carlton Fields has extensive experience representing Internet, cable, local, wireless, and long distance telecommunications providers as well as numerous manufacturers and suppliers to the communications industry. We understand that our telecom clients operate in a fiercely competitive industry that serves customers with high expectations. Meeting those expectations requires tremendous capital investment to stay on the cutting edge of new technologies. In addition, the convergence of the communications and financial industries is blurring the lines between telecom service providers, content providers, and financial services firms, increasing the pressure to grab market share. Clients benefit from our vast experience in these industries, which allows us to anticipate their evolving, and potentially overlapping, legal services needs.

Because some of our lawyers are former telecom industry executives, we are uniquely attuned to our clients’ need for timely business-driven solutions. Our group is led by a former senior executive for AT&T Wireless Services whose positions at the company included vice president of business security and senior corporate counsel. His various roles at a major national telecom service provider gave him insight into virtually every aspect of the business, from sales and marketing to network operations, mergers and acquisitions, and fraud and security.  His responsibilities included managing a 250-employee nationwide department with a $30 million annual budget, and responsibility for enterprise-wide fraud detection and prevention, cyber/network security, physical security, new product security analysis, internal investigations, and subpoena, court order, electronic surveillance, and CALEA compliance. While at AT&T he was active in various telecom industry organizations, founded the Wireless Chief Security Officers Forum, and served as a member of the International Security Management Association, the worldwide organization of chief security officers.  Since coming to Carlton Fields, he was recognized by former FBI Director Robert Mueller for providing assistance in combating international terrorism in connection with his efforts to stop wireless handset trafficking on behalf of the firm’s telecom clients. He is active in numerous industry associations and has served as co-chair of the ABA’s Privacy and Computer Crime Committee CLE Working Group.

We also work with non-telecom clients on telecommunications issues that affect their businesses. For example, we provide guidance to clients on their telemarketing plans, helping them to navigate through compliance with federal and state laws that regulate the manner in which they can market their services to clients. Alleged violations of the laws in this area provide the basis for many recent class action lawsuits, particularly under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Claims under the TCPA provide for statutory damages of up to $1,500 for each telemarketing contact, resulting in massive exposure for companies with robust telemarketing programs, and making them a favorite target for plaintiff lawyers. Carlton Fields has one of the premier class action defense practices in the country, and we have defended our clients from TCPA and other telecom-related class actions for many years.

Services

Litigation
Carlton Fields has decades of experience handling a wide range of litigation and arbitration matters for our telecom clients, including class actions, dealer litigation, employment cases, consumer claims, cell site disputes, antitrust litigation, landlord-tenant disputes, zoning and permitting disputes, interconnection claims, condemnation proceedings, bankruptcy, and securities litigation. Our deep understanding of our clients’ telecommunications businesses make us uniquely suited to represent them as efficiently as possible without wasting resources getting “up to speed” on the how the industry operates.

Class Actions
Carlton Fields is a leading national class action defense law firm.  We regularly represent clients in class action lawsuits across the country and are frequently retained to manage or coordinate the overall institutional response to multidistrict litigation. Telecommunications companies have been frequent targets of class actions since the 1990s, and our lawyers have been helping our clients defend themselves against those claims from the beginning.

Intellectual Property
We represent our telecommunication industry clients in a broad range of patent, trademark, and copyright litigation, with an emphasis on ensuring that lawsuits do not impede their ability to conduct business and generate revenue.  We defend our clients against lawsuits filed across the country, and initiate litigation for them when their intellectual property rights are infringed. We also help clients identify domain names with active websites that may be infringing registered trademarks, particularly websites that offer prepaid cellular plans and phones. We send cease and desist letters to the registrants of all identified domain names (both domestic and international). If further action is required to shut down those websites, we weigh whether to file a cybersquatting and trademark infringement action in the U.S. District Courts, or follow the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy under ICANN to have the domains transferred to our client.

Transactions
We have deep experience representing telecom companies in complex corporate finance transactions (both equity and debt); corporate acquisitions and divestitures; complex joint venture arrangements; and contract matters, including intellectual property licensing and outsourcing matters. We have been extensively involved in the consolidation in the wireless market (including acting as counsel in the transaction that created T-Mobile in the United States) and in the consolidation of the cable industry.  Our attorneys have represented our telecom clients in billions of dollars worth of corporate transactions over the past several years.

We also represent our telecom clients in real estate purchase and sale as well as leasing transactions, including the acquisition and disposition of network transmission facilities, retail locations, office space, and customer care centers. We are particularly attuned to the unique issues that face telecom carriers that deal with concerns regarding the location of cellular transmission sites and use of rights of way. We routinely help our clients resolve these issues. As telecommunications technologies evolve, our clients’ needs for space often do the same, and we assist them in negotiating changes to leases, acquiring new property, and disposing of obsolete facilities and locations.

Government and Regulatory Matters
We represent our telecom clients in dealing with local, state and federal governmental agencies across the country.  Our experience includes land use and zoning approvals related to communications facilities, telecommunications tax audits, cell tower siting, tariff disputes, right-of-way franchise ordinances, easements, interconnection charges, zoning and permitting, and other issues. We have handled disputes with public service commissions and state attorneys general on consumer matters as well as government contract and other issues.

Privacy, Fraud, and Security Issues
Carlton Fields is a national leader in working with telecom companies on privacy, fraud and security matters. Our services include guiding clients through internal assessments of risks and providing practical advice on protecting their corporate assets and confidential customer and proprietary information. We also have a proven track record of saving our clients hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud losses by stopping and pursuing perpetrators of various schemes targeting telecom companies, including handset trafficking and subsidy theft, activation fraud, identity theft, dealer fraud, employee misconduct, and equipment theft.

Wireless Handset Trafficking
Since 2005, our attorneys have led a nationwide effort to stop handset trafficking and subsidy theft on behalf of our wireless industry clients. We helped our clients build multifaceted anti-trafficking programs that include undercover investigations, litigation, modifications to our clients’ customer terms and conditions of service, working with handset manufacturers to improve the technological impediments to reflashing, implementing point of sale restrictions, and collaborating with law enforcement authorities, in-house security teams, and private investigators to pursue and prosecute traffickers.

Our legal team has filed more than 170 lawsuits against 485 separate defendants in federal courts district courts across the country, including in Texas, New York, California, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and Oklahoma. To date, these cases have resulted in the entry of 182 final judgments and permanent injunctions finding the traffickers’ conduct illegal and prohibiting them from ever again buying, selling, unlocking or transshipping wireless phones. The final judgments have awarded our clients more than $550 million in damages. Most importantly, our efforts have solved a significant problem for our clients by stemming their losses from this fraud and restoring hundreds of millions of dollars to their bottom lines. Additionally, we work with industry groups and government officials to craft legislation and regulations that protect our clients by more definitively criminalizing the conduct of bulk traffickers and unlockers.

Network and Data Security and Customer Privacy
Our attorneys have significant experience in data security and privacy. Carlton Fields provides telecom industry clients with comprehensive counsel on complex, evolving, and multifaceted issues related to information security, privacy, and data breach. We blend our skills and experiences as litigators and compliance attorneys with a deep understanding of information security and data breach law to meet and anticipate our clients’ needs. We have helped clients develop incident response plans, develop and implement privacy programs, manage breach notification and remediation, and respond to law enforcement disclosure requests. We have also represented clients during compliance audits at both the state and federal level.

Our legal team includes privacy experts that can provide counsel in all aspects of managing customer information. As consumers become more knowledgeable about their privacy rights, telecom companies will need to ensure that they have implemented privacy programs that appropriately protect their customers’ private information. Carlton Fields can advise these companies on a wide variety of privacy matters, including compliance. We can also draft privacy policies and procedures as well as help clients conduct privacy risk assessments and internal audits to ensure their privacy programs can withstand both public and regulatory scrutiny.

Many of our telecom clients receive high volumes of subpoenas and court orders seeking access to customer records and communications. The laws governing these issues can be a minefield for telecom providers, who must balance providing appropriate and lawful access to law enforcement with protecting their customers’ privacy rights. While the federal telecommunications act and regulations require carriers to protect Customer Proprietary Network Information (“CPNI”), federal and state wiretap laws, including the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act, require them to disclose that information when presented with appropriate legal process. These issues are compounded by the secrecy requirements imposed on certain requests pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). The manner in which telecom providers deliver the information to law enforcement is detailed in the requirements of the federal Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (“CALEA”), which imposes stiff fines of up to $10,000 per day on carriers who do not comply. In recent years, these issues have garnered significant attention from the press, legislators, and regulators, further complicating the risks for service providers.

Carlton Fields lawyers have decades of experience helping telecom carriers navigate these issues. We help our clients develop their compliance policies and prepare guidelines and manuals for their employees to follow. We are available 24/7 to advise on responding to exigent circumstances requests and deal with law enforcement officers and prosecutors who sometimes require an immediate response. We provide training to our clients’ employees and to law enforcement officers on our clients’ behalf to ensure our compliance with the law and minimize risk. We also represent our telecom clients in court on disputes related to their subpoena, court order, and wiretap compliance.

Representative Matters

  • Represented telecommunications service provider and communications equipment manufacturer in seeking redress for alleged overcharges of LCD screens in multi-district litigation matter
  • Defended large national wireless service provider in nationwide consumer class action
  • Helped three of the largest national wireless companies build cross-functional teams to combat handset trafficking and subsidy theft
  • Defended national wireless service provider against claims for breach of cell site lease, preserving ability to keep site on the air providing service to consumers and generating revenue
  • Represented the largest prepaid cellular provider in a trademark dispute and obtained a settlement for our client 
  • Obtained 182 final judgments and permanent injunctions against 485 wireless phone traffickers on behalf of four of the largest national wireless service providers, resulting in awards of more than $550 million in damages by federal courts across the country, including in Texas, New York, California, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Jersey, Illinois,  Virginia, Arizona, Washington, Idaho, and Oklahoma.
  • Structuring sophisticated public and private equity and debt financing transactions involving private equity funds, commercial banks and investment banks
  • Buying and selling companies and divisions through mergers, stock purchases, and asset purchases
  • Structuring complex joint venture transactions, including joint ventures relating to asset sharing and network buildout
  • Representing clients in sale/leaseback transactions involving telecommunications towers and other assets
  • Drafting and negotiating technology and content licensing agreements, customer, reseller, VAR and OEM agreements, outsourcing and manufacturing agreements, technology transfer agreements, development and distribution agreements, source code escrow agreements, evaluation and beta test agreements, maintenance and support agreements and equipment leases.
  • Represented several major cell phone providers in trademark and unfair competition disputes; including a summary judgment order that resulted in permanent injunctive relief, substantial monetary damages, enhanced monetary damages, and a finding of an exceptional case to include an award of attorneys’ fees
  • Defended an international telecommunications corporation against claims of misappropriation of trade secrets and defamation of title to patent rights; representation included a two-and-a half-week jury trial
  • Obtained orders of contempt in trademark and patent infringement suits for various clients, including electronics manufacturer and telecommunications company