Once director of Compliance and Audits for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's $4.7 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), attorney Cynthia Schultz recently launched the Broadband Law Group to focus on an array of communications-related issues.
The Washington, D.C.-based boutique firm specializes in federal regulatory compliance, broadband, appeals and audits, as well as grants management and public-private partnerships and federal technology programs funded under the FCC Universal Service Programs, including E-Rate and Healthcare Connect and Rural Utilities Services (RUS) technology loan and grant programs. In addition to working at NTIA, Schultz held top legal positions at rural broadband provider Affiniti, was a partner with the telecom and technology practice at Patton Boggs and was director of Service Provider Support for the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) where she managed E-Rate program operations affecting more than 4,000 telecom, Internet service and technology providers.
As a managing member of Broadband Law Group, Schultz combines her passions for law, broadband and representing municipalities, school districts, rural healthcare providers and other stakeholders, she told Broadband World News. Quality, high-speed connectivity is critical, Schultz said, and specialization in broadband empowers her to better assist her clients.
Here is an edited version of Schultz' conversation with BBWN Editor Alison Diana:
Broadband World News: Why did you found a law firm specializing in broadband?
Cynthia Schultz: I gave it a lot of thought: Exactly what do I love? What are my passions? What really resonates? For me, the focus of my career has been primarily on broadband and technology, on education and vulnerable populations. Having had ample opportunity to work with major providers… and representing them, and also representing the municipalities and school districts, it adds a whole different color to the issues surrounding broadband that are near and dear to my heart that I love tackling.
BBWN: Why so focused?
CS: I think there's a very important need for this, not just a generalized telco lawyer, but a firm focused on where our nation is going, where the rest of the world is going and how do I help our stakeholders in their journey to meet their needs? [Recently] at an education conference, we spent time really focusing on the fourth industrial revolution -- artificial intelligence.
Managing Broadband Regulatory Complexities
"I think these programs are moving in the right direction. Should there be an infrastructure bill that comes, they will give very solid consideration to the infrastructure for broadband to connect our rural areas." -- Cynthia Schultz, Broadband Law Group.
Is it so big nobody can really grasp it? Are we walking around a little dazed because it is
so big that nobody can
grasp it? Or are we going to prepare for it?
BBWN: Who are your clients?
CS: I work with clients all the way from Fortune 50 to very small companies. It's the issues that are at play that matter to the companies. I also work with a lot of rural companies -- they're in rural markets. Equally I work with school districts in federal funding when they run into compliance issues and such. I work with municipalities that are looking to gain access to federal techy grants or compliance issues with that.
BBWN: Having worked so closely with educators and young people, what do you foresee will be the ways in which enterprises and employees work in the future?
CS: We live in a time where we have a lot of entrepreneurial thinking, especially in the young, because they see the world more individually. But we're bringing them into more of a collaborative market, because it's going to be more complex. With that complexity people have to work together; they have to grow together. We're going to see that too with the Apples, the Googles and the Amazons: Everyone wants to be first to market… but the potential of what lies there is going to require companies to work more together. I see that happening a bit more already, probably because there's been such a shift in the technology.
BBWN: High-speed broadband, that ability to quickly and reliably connect, has to be part of that collaborative story, yes?
CS: We've now taken a step back. When you look at the net neutrality issues and how they're going to affect these markets, I don't know if it's going to survive necessarily or not, depending on how long this administration lasts.
BBWN: How does all the merger and acquisition activity affect investment?
CS: Service providers, where they were once siloed, are now grappling: Do I want to be in infrastructure? Now we're in this world of everything being bought up and unfortunately technology suffers. When I think about that kind of activity taking place in our rural and underserved areas which makes up most of the United States… right now there's a ton of this M&A activity, buying up a ton of these smaller companies -- ultimately to be bought up again -- it slows things down.
BBWN: How are some of the specific programs working, would you say?
CS: Right now, E-Rate works. It has a lot of problems. It's going through a lot of changes but it's invested more than $45 billion since its inception through the 1996 Technology Act to enact technology to our schools. The cap for 2018 is $4 billion for category one and cat two services. One of the shifts taking place, which is a very good development, is they decided in a modernization order in 2014 to fund special construction -- dark fiber, special provision networks. It did what it was meant to do. One of the things it was meant to do was to promote competition, lower prices and get connectivity to those areas. In some cases, they relied heavily on water towers and rooftop mounts of houses. It's not all fiber optics. In some areas you have to rely on wireless and satellites. (See FCC: Mobile Broadband 'No Substitute' for Fixed Service.)
BBWN: Overall, are you optimistic about future investment in under-served and rural areas of the US?
CS: I think these programs are moving in the right direction. Should there be an infrastructure bill that comes, they will give very solid consideration to the infrastructure for broadband to connect our rural areas. That's a big focus in our country -- rural. We are really so far behind. If you travel a lot and are on the networks of these incumbents, you're likely to lose connectivity.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter @BroadbandWN or @alisoncdiana.