Overview

Mayer Brown’s Telecommunications Litigation lawyers combine extensive industry knowledge and in-depth regulatory understanding with exceptional commercial litigation skills to represent the interests of telecommunications clients in dispute resolutions around the globe. Our Telecommunications Litigation practice advises on a broad range of related areas, including telecommunications, antitrust, administrative law, civil procedure, constitutional law, economic principles, overlapping regulatory institutions and complex new technologies. 

We understand the converging trends that have transformed worldwide telecommunications service — wireless and broadband growth, privatization, outsourcing, provider consolidation — and we are well-positioned to handle new types of controversies as a result.

Integrated Global Capabilities

We leverage Mayer Brown’s global resources through a closely knit team approach that combines talents and insights from team members in the United States, Europe and Asia. Each of our group’s US-based partners has many years of telecommunications experience, with knowledge of both the technical areas of telecommunications law and of trial and appellate litigation strategy. In Europe, many members of our team have been employed by, or seconded to, companies in the telecom sector, and they take an active role in industry associations and regulatory bodies to shape the development of telecom law. Mayer Brown lawyers in Asia assist telecom, as well as Internet, satellite and broadcasting clients, with dispute resolution and transactional needs throughout that region.

Our lawyers have in-depth understanding of the industry in their own regions and work collaboratively when client concerns cross national boundaries. The result is what Chambers USA called “a dominant position that few, if any, are able to compete with” in the field of telecom law, including “a set of ‘terrific litigators’ with vast experience in a wide variety of telecom matters [that] cements the firm’s position at the top of the table.”

Experience

Our Telecommunications Litigation practice has represented telecommunications leaders in all manner of proceedings (including arbitrations, state and federal regulatory proceedings, trials, and appeals), in all areas of law (including matters related to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, antitrust, federal pre-emption, constitutional litigation, and rights-of-way litigation), and in numerous jurisdictions throughout the country (from Alaska to California in the west, to Texas and Florida in the south, to Pennsylvania and Virginia in the east, to New Hampshire and Minnesota in the north). The practice group combines the individual talents and experience of its members in both the technical areas of communications law and in the practice of trial and appellate litigation.

US Experience
Europe & Asia Experience

US Experience

For more than 16 years, our team of seasoned litigators has handled a wide range of matters in countless forums. We have represented our telecommunications clients in state and federal trial and appellate courts, in state regulatory agencies and in the Federal Communications Commission. In one recent 12-month period we handled significant litigation matters for our telecommunications clients before the FCC and in 40 states, including regulatory commissions, state and federal courts, seven different federal Courts of Appeals and the US Supreme Court. In the span of one month, we argued three different appeals in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit—and won them all.

We have represented AT&T, and before that SBC and Ameritech, in matters under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, including the negotiation and arbitration of interconnection agreements, state commission approval proceedings and federal court review proceedings, from the district court level to the Supreme Court. We also have been counsel on federal preemption issues, antitrust matters and other commercial litigation. Our firm is also lead counsel representing AT&T in a wide range of legal and regulatory issues in many US states that involve our client’s use of rights-of-way to introduce new advanced communications services.

Following the landmark mergers between SBC and AT&T and between the new AT&T and BellSouth, we have continued to expand the geographic scope of our US telecommunications litigation practice. Mayer Brown is nationwide counsel for AT&T on a broad array of litigation, in state and federal courts and before regulatory agencies coast-to-coast. Often this requires us to litigate parallel proceedings in federal trial and appellate courts, the FCC and state regulators, in controversies deciding complex issues that define and clarify:

Federal Preemption of Inconsistent State Law
Antitrust & Class Actions
Wireless Litigation
Litigation Against Other Telecommunications Carriers
Rights-of-Way Litigation & Advice
Merger Approvals
Complex Multi-State Arbitrations
Liquidated Damage Disputes

Federal Preemption of Inconsistent State Law


We have successfully represented AT&T (and its predecessors SBC and Ameritech) in numerous challenges asserting state-imposed access requirements to be preempted by federal law. For example, we helped AT&T prevail in Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. Box, 548 F.3d 607 (7th Cir. 2008), a significant and extremely hard-fought preemption case. In this case, AT&T challenged certain wholesale access requirements imposed by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) on the ground that they conflicted with, and were therefore preempted by, the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The district court granted partial summary judgment in AT&T’s favor in September 2006 (Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. O’Connell-Diaz, 2006 WL 2796488 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2006)), and its lengthy opinion accepted all of our pre-emption arguments, conclusively rejecting the opposing arguments of the ICC and of several competing carriers. In April 2007, when the ICC nonetheless tried to continue enforcing the unlawful requirements, the court granted our motion for injunctive relief. And on January 29, 2008, the court entered final judgment and a permanent injunction in AT&T’s favor. Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. Hurley, 2008 WL 239149 (Jan. 29, 2008). We then successfully defended these victories in the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed the district court in all respects in an opinion written by Judge Posner.

We represented SBC in another leading preemption case, Wisconsin Bell, Inc. v. Bie, 340 F.3d 441 (7th Cir. 2003). In this case, the Seventh Circuit, in a 2-1 decision by Judge Posner joined by Judge Easterbrook, clarified the procedures that a state public utility commission must follow in implementing the access requirements of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. Agreeing with our arguments, the court held that a state-imposed alternative to the Act’s contractual procedures for setting the terms and conditions of access was preempted and could not be enforced. In view of the significance of the issue, a competing carrier and a state public utility commission filed petitions for certiorari asking the US Supreme Court to review the Seventh Circuit’s decision. We filed a brief in opposition, and the Supreme Court denied both petitions in early 2004.

We have also successfully represented AT&T, SBC and Ameritech in challenges to several other state-imposed access requirements. See Pacific Bell Tel. Co. v. Public Utils. Comm’n of the State of California, 2005 WL 818375 (N.D. Cal. April 5, 2005); Michigan Bell Tel. Co. v. Lark, 373 F. Supp. 2d 694 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 6, 2005); Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. ICC, 352 Ill. App. 3d 630 (3d Dist. 2004); Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. ICC, 343 Ill. App. 3d 249 (3d Dist. 2003).

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Antitrust & Class Actions

In Wampler v. Southwestern Bell Tel. Co., No. A-07-CA-1039-LY (W.D. Tex. Feb. 10, 2009), we obtained dismissal of a class action suit filed in Texas challenging AT&T’s contractual arrangements for exclusive provision of video services in multi-dwelling buildings, such as apartment buildings, condominium complexes and other residential developments. The district court granted our motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ putative class action on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ artificial definition of a single-building “market” was contrary to antitrust law.

In Michigan, a competing carrier (which owed AT&T Michigan more than one million dollars in unpaid wholesale bills) sued AT&T Michigan alleging violations of state antitrust laws, breach of contract, and civil conspiracy. The competitor sought more than one million dollars in damages. We successfully moved to dismiss the competitor’s complaint on multiple grounds, including (i) the plain language of the contract, (ii) the fact that the Michigan Public Service Commission had already rejected the competitor’s claims, (iii) federal preemption and (iv) Supreme Court antitrust precedent in the telecommunications industry. The Court granted our motion on May 4, 2011, and also granted our request for sanctions.

In the landmark Supreme Court case Verizon v. Trinko, 540 U.S. 398 (2004), we represented BellSouth, SBC and Qwest as amicus curiae. The Court held that a putative class action complaint alleging that an incumbent local exchange carrier breached its duties under the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 to share its network with competitors did not state an antitrust claim under § 2 of the Sherman Act. The decision was a major victory for incumbent carriers and has been recognized by legal commentators as a significant decision in both telecommunications and antitrust law.

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Wireless Litigation


We have represented AT&T in numerous court proceedings in several states regarding AT&T’s applications for permits to construct wireless communications facilities. Recently, we achieved a hard-fought victory for AT&T Mobility and American Tower in the Minnesota Court of Appeals and then in the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals reversed a trial-court injunction that had blocked construction of a 450-foot wireless tower over a mile away from the Boundary Waters. Local officials had approved the tower to promote the health, safety and welfare of residents and visitors. The Court of Appeals agreed that the tower would not have a material adverse effect on scenic resources. The plaintiffs filed a petition seeking review by the Minnesota Supreme Court, and enlisted several environmental groups to file amicus petitions. We opposed the petition, and the Minnesota Supreme Court denied review on August 21, 2012.

In New Hampshire, we successfully defended a favorable ruling by local zoning officials against a challenge by local property owners. On May 3, 2012, the state’s Supreme Court entered an order affirming the decision, which permitted AT&T Mobility to construct a 110-foot wireless tower. Jones v. Town of Francestown, No. 2011-0812 (N.H. S. Ct. May 3, 2012).

We represented “affiliates” of Sprint—iPCS Wireless, Inc., Horizon Personal Communications, Inc., and Bright Personal Communications Services, LLC—in several high-profile, high-stakes breach of contract cases challenging Sprint’s conduct in the aftermath of the Sprint-Nextel merger. The clients received favorable results in two separate bench trials (one in Delaware and the other in Illinois). iPCS Wireless, Inc. v. Sprint Corp., No. 05 CH 11792 (Ill. Cir. Ct., Ch. Div., Aug. 15, 2006); Horizon Personal Communications, Inc. v. Sprint Corp., No. Civ. A. 1518-N, 2006 WL 2337592 (Del. Ch. Aug. 4, 2006). Sprint appealed the Illinois ruling, and we persuaded the Appellate Court to unanimously affirm the circuit court’s judgment (and to find for iPCS on an independent theory of liability as well). iPCS Wireless, Inc. v. Sprint Corp., No. 1-06-2801 (Ill. App. Ct., March 31, 2008). We then successfully opposed Sprint’s petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. On reconsideration, the Illinois Supreme Court again denied Sprint’s petition for leave, while it extended the time for Sprint’s compliance with the judgment. We served as lead counsel on all appeals, and we assisted the trial team (which was comprised of other lawyers from the firm).

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Litigation Against Other Telecommunications Carriers


We have represented AT&T in prosecuting and defending numerous suits against other carriers in federal and state courts and before state regulatory commissions. For example, a competitor sued AT&T in federal district court in Texas, alleging that AT&T violated the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 by engaging in predatory pricing of certain wholesale services. The district court denied AT&T’s motion to dismiss (handled principally by another firm) and entered a temporary restraining order and then a preliminary injunction. Because other competitors filed similar suits, and because the various competitors operated in multiple states, the district court entered a nationwide preliminary injunction that hamstrung AT&T’s wholesale operations throughout the country. We represented AT&T on appeal in the Fifth Circuit. We successfully argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the parties’ rights were governed by an interconnection agreement, and therefore the competitor’s claims arose under state law rather than the federal Act. The Fifth Circuit accordingly reversed the district court’s judgment denying AT&T’s motion to dismiss, and vacated the preliminary injunction. Budget Prepay, Inc. v. AT&T Corp., 605 F.3d 273 (5th Cir. 2010).

In another case, a billing agent for AT&T’s competitors filed suit against AT&T in the Western District of North Carolina, arguing that AT&T offered promotional discounts to retail customers in nine states but did not pass those discounts on to competitors (who were not parties to the suit). The plaintiff claimed that AT&T owed its competitors more than $14 million. The district court dismissed the case for lack of standing, and on December 8, 2011, the Fourth Circuit affirmed. In the Court’s words, “[a]t the end of the day, CGM seeks to shoehorn claims against its own competitive LEC clients into a claim against [AT&T],” yet the federal telecommunications laws did not give standing for CGM to sue AT&T. CGM, LLC v. BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., 664 F.3d 46 (4th Cir. 2011).

We also represent AT&T’s incumbent local exchange carriers in suits against a closely related group of carriers in five federal courts of appeal, eight federal district courts and three state regulatory commissions for violation of federal and state tariffs and breach of interconnection agreements. In one of these cases, we obtained a $6 million default judgment against the defendant carriers based on the carriers’ discovery violations. In another case, we obtained an award of more than $30 million against one member of the carrier group. In another such case, we have obtained partial summary judgment on liability issues. Elsewhere, we successfully appealed a district court’s ruling on personal jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Posner, held that AT&T produced sufficient evidence that a subsidiary was a shell, so the courts could exercise personal jurisdiction over its parent. Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. Global NAPS Illinois, Inc., 551 F.3d 587 (7th Cir. 2008).

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Rights-of-Way Litigation & Advice


We continue to expand our US representation of AT&T in connection with legal and regulatory issues arising out of AT&T’s use of public rights-of-way. For example, we represent AT&T Mississippi in a case first filed in state court in Mississippi, then removed by BellSouth to federal district court, Marlow LLC v. BellSouth Telecommunications, Inc., Case No. 2:10-cv-00135-KS-MTP. The plaintiff bought property on which AT&T Mississippi previously had placed aboveground and buried telecommunications equipment and facilities with the consent of the prior landowner. Plaintiff sought an injunction and damages, alleging that AT&T failed to secure the signature of the spouse of the prior landowner on a written easement and subsequently slandered the title by submitting a new easement that evidenced the spouse’s consent to the granting of the easement. The district court granted summary judgment in AT&T’s favor on the slander of title claim, and the Fifth Circuit has affirmed. On remand, the district court granted our motion in limine to limit any trespass damages to $50,000 on the basis of an affidavit plaintiff submitted in an unsuccessful attempt to have the case remanded back to state court.

We currently serve as AT&T’s lead counsel in many states on rights-of-way issues, building on our work in connection with AT&T’s Project Lightspeed network upgrades and on our representation of BellSouth (which has merged with AT&T) in rights-of-way litigation. In this regard, we assist AT&T with an array of strategic issues that arise in connection with planned Lightspeed network-upgrade activities both nationwide and in specific communities in several states. We have handled matters for AT&T and for the former BellSouth companies in the state and federal courts of Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin. See, e.g., Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. Village of Itasca, 2007 WL 1560263 (N.D. Ill. May 25, 2007); BellSouth Telecomms., Inc. v. City of Memphis, 160 S.W.3d 901 (Tenn. App. July 12, 2004), appeal denied (Tenn. Jan. 4, 2005); City of Macon v. Alltel Comms., Inc., 277 Ga. 823 (2004).

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Merger Approvals


We have played a significant role in the development of the new AT&T. We served as SBC’s lead outside counsel in determining the need for, and obtaining, approvals from state regulatory commissions of the Agreement and Plan of Merger between SBC and AT&T in the 13 states served by SBC, the 14-state territory served by Qwest, Alaska and Hawaii. All the required state-level approvals were obtained, and the merger closed on November 18, 2005. Following on our success, we served as AT&T’s lead outside counsel with respect to state regulatory approval of the merger between AT&T and BellSouth in 41 states and the District of Columbia. All the required state-level approvals were obtained, and the merger obtained final approval from the FCC on December 29, 2006.

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Complex Multi-State Arbitrations


We have represented AT&T and its predecessors in countless arbitrations since the enactment of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, including simultaneous proceedings in multiple states, and proceedings involving multiple carriers. For example, we represented AT&T in interconnection agreement arbitrations against Sprint in 11 states, and assisted in two other states. In all 13 states, Sprint attempted to have certain terms of a Kentucky agreement forcibly transplanted to other states. We developed a theory that the state public utility commissions did not have jurisdiction over Sprint’s complaints: three of Sprint’s complaints were dismissed on that ground, while in several other states, AT&T prevailed on the merits. With all 13 proceedings now either closed or winding down, there is no state in which Sprint achieved its desired result.

We represented AT&T in concurrent cases before regulatory commissions in several states concerning the rates AT&T pays for access to the networks of local carriers for AT&T customers’ intrastate long-distance calls. In Alaska, Kansas, and New Jersey, the state commissions adopted substantial access charge reductions. We helped AT&T to successfully defend the New Jersey decision against consolidated appeals by several local carriers in that state’s appellate court. In Virginia, the commission ordered a partial reduction in access charges, and then approved a settlement that calls for further reductions.

We also represented AT&T in concurrent cases before regulatory commissions in six states concerning (among other things) the implementation of landmark FCC rules regarding the extent to which AT&T would give competitors access to key elements of its network. The proceedings involved a wide variety of complex issues and a large number of competing carriers. We achieved favorable results on most of the contested issues in the state commissions, and we prevailed on an additional issue in two federal courts. Indiana Bell Tel. Co. v. Hardy, 2008 WL 2557247 (S.D. Ind. June 4, 2008); Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. Box, 2008 WL 2815924 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 21, 2007), aff’d, 526 F.3d 1069 (7th Cir. 2008).

We successfully defended AT&T against a competitor’s lawsuit challenging a decision rendered by the Texas Public Utility Commission. The district court granted AT&T’s motion for summary judgment, and then denied the competitor’s motion for reconsideration. Logix Communications, L.P. v. Public Util. Comm’n, No. A-06-CA-548-SS (Nov. 6, 2006), reconsideration denied (Nov. 15, 2006). The Fifth Circuit then affirmed across the board. Logix Communications, L.P. v. Public Util. Comm’n, 521 F.3d 361 (5th Cir. 2008). We then successfully opposed the competitor’s petition for certiorari to the US Supreme Court. Logix Communications, L.P. v. Public Util. Comm’n, 129 S. Ct. 223 (2008).

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Liquidated Damage Disputes


We successfully represented AT&T (and before that) SBC in several cases regarding state-imposed liquidated damage plans. In Complaint of Local Phone Services Inc., No. 07-SWBT-872-COM (Kan. Corp. Comm’n Jan. 2, 2008), we persuaded the Kansas Corporation Commission to reject a carrier’s attempt to retroactively increase liquidated damage amounts after that carrier’s contract with AT&T had expired. We then successfully opposed the carrier’s petition for reconsideration. In Wisconsin Bell, Inc. v. Public Service Comm'n, 670 N.W.2d 97 (Wis. App. 2003), we persuaded the Wisconsin Court of Appeals that the state plan constituted an unlawful “penalty” because it bore no connection to actual damages. In Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. ICC, 352 Ill. App. 3d 630 (3d Dist. 2004) and Illinois Bell Tel. Co. v. ICC, 343 Ill. App. 3d 249 (3d Dist. 2003) the Illinois Appellate Court held that the state plan was preempted by federal law. We also represented SBC in proceedings before the Illinois Commerce Commission to develop a more reasonable replacement plan.

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Europe & Asia Experience

A strong foundation of transactional experience supports our firm’s dispute resolution presence in emerging and established European and Asian telecom markets. We have represented Europe's largest telecommunications operator on major matters in Europe and Asia, and we fully understand the competitive pressures and disputes created by ongoing consolidation and restructuring as players reposition themselves in an increasingly competitive and global market.

We help European clients, in the United Kingdom and other countries elsewhere, deal with increased shareholder scrutiny and related disputes in the wake of the telecom company insolvencies and governance problems occurring throughout this decade. European telecom litigation is inseparable from ongoing regulatory constraints, whether through the restructuring of formerly state-owned carriers, the application of market by market micro-regulation across the European Union or the rise in sector-specific consumer protection rules. As these trends influence (and sometimes constrain) telecom business strategies, our lawyers approach dispute resolution with the objective of helping our clients continue to pursue new market opportunities.

With a strong base throughout Asia that encompasses such major telecom markets as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai and Beijing, Mayer Brown provides comprehensive services that integrate litigation and transactional needs. Our lawyers help telecom and other advanced technology clients protect their intellectual property, resolve contractual disputes (including those related to procurement, interconnection, franchising and outsourcing agreements), and respond to regulatory and licensing questions.