Survival Guide: Richard Wiley, managing partner, Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP and former FCC Chairman

Richard Wiley, Emmy-award winning Washington corporate lawyer

Henrik G. de Gyor

Richard Wiley is probably the only lawyer in town who's won an Emmy. The former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (1970-77), who advocates increased competition and reduced regulation in the communications industry, received the award in 1997 for his work promoting high-definition television. "Now I only have to win an Oscar," he said.

Today, Wiley is managing partner of Wiley Rein & Fielding LLP, a law firm with offices in Washington and McLean, Va., where he represents clients in the communications and wireless industries as well as broadcast media and content providers.

Lately, he has been tuned into voice over Internet Protocol, as Congress has recently introduced legislation to regulate the service, which he believes will dominate the telecommunications industry during the next few years.

With his Emmy prominently displayed on a shelf in his K Street office, Wiley talked to Washington Technology's Roseanne Gerin about the future of VoIP. 

WT: Why is VoIP an up-and-coming technology?

Wiley: Because it's platform independent. It can be provided over many different kinds of platforms. You don't even have to own the platform or have an interconnection agreement with the owner. Also, it's the final step in convergence. It really undermines the distinction between information services and telecommunications services. It eliminates the idea that substitutable services have to be regulated differently based on the identity of the provider or of the platform.

We're just in the early stages and over the next year or two we'll see it begin to develop and become a major service.

WT: What kind of regulations should be adopted for VoIP?

Wiley: A very light touch that would hopefully allow industry to come up with the solutions, but if not, then the government

I do think you have to consider societal goals -- how to deal with emergency 911 and disability access [communications] -- that we want to accommodate through either industry agreement or regulation ... You probably have to have some ability to regulate in those areas if industry can't reach a solution.

WT: What will VoIP mean for end users?

Wiley: It's a very bright future for them now. The possibility of unified messaging, integrating video and high-speed data as part of the telephone call, and a number of other applications is going to be good news for end users. And that's true even if you have to spend some bucks dealing with some of the societal issues, such as emergency 911 and disability access. There's still going to be a lot of bang for the buck for the consumer.

WT: What will it mean for the big telecom providers that do business with the federal government?

Wiley: Clearly, the government isn't going to be left out of the VoIP party. Increasingly, you're going to see government procurements requiring VoIP-enabled applications, and therefore service providers will have to accommodate that and make that kind of service available.  

WT: What about prices for VoIP?

Wiley: We're going to see a very competitive marketplace, because a lot of different providers can do VoIP applications over a number of different platforms. I think the marketplace could work in this area without the need for heavy government regulation.

WT: If you could give FCC Chairman Michael Powell a grade on his performance, what would you give him and why?

Wiley: A-minus. He's done well, and he's been a visionary in attempting to navigate through some very complex and contentious issues, but always with the concept in mind that if there is marketplace competition, we ought to strive for that, and therefore we ought to try to reduce regulation.

WT: Can you understand your phone bill?

Wiley: The American people want a return to one-stop shopping -- that is, to be able to get all their services provided by a single carrier.

As you know, we had that capability in this country before the old Bell system was broken up in 1984. We broke it up because we wanted greater competition. Now we have competition from a whole variety of providers, but if I want to get all my services from one provider, why shouldn't I be allowed to do that? That's beginning to happen.

Through the 1996 telecommunications act, local carriers have been allowed to get into long-distance service once they proved that their local markets were opened to competition.

In the future, people may want to have a different wireless carrier and a different wire-line carrier, but perhaps some people want to have a single bill that would cover all their telecom services. Different strokes for different folks.

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