Jenner Recruits Three FCC Lawyers, Readies for Transactions

Jenner & Block announced Thursday it has recruited three lawyers from the Federal Communications Commission, including Howard Symons, who departed as the agency’s general counsel in January.

Symons, who also served as Vice Chair of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, started at Jenner on May 1st as a partner in the firm’s Washington, D.C. office and will soon be joined by Johanna R. Thomas, who recently departed as the Legal Advisor to FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, and Roger Sherman who departed in February 2016 as Chief of the FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.

Thomas joined the firm as special counsel last week and Sherman will join as of counsel in June, creating a 22-lawyer communications, internet and technology practice group, including 15 partners.

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Howard Symons (Courtesy)

Why they’re bulking up: The firm represented Charter Communications in its acquisition of Time-Warner Cable and before that in failed attempt — which was blocked on antitrust grounds — to purchase Comcast.

With a Republican Administration, Sam Feder, chair of the group, said clients are already beginning to poke around looking at companies they want to buy on the idea that regulatory oversight is likely to be more lax than it was under the previous administration.

Now is the time to consider whether a merger makes sense because we have a little more leeway to pursue those transactions,” Symons explained. 

He added that cable companies are increasingly moving into the wireless industry as people’s viewing habits shift from set top boxes to wireless devices. “All those things push towards new transactions, more transactions,” Symons said.

On Net Neutrality Rules: On Thursday, the FCC voted 2-1 along party lines to give “preliminary approval to a new approach on internet regulation,” Bloomberg reported. Specifically, the agency voted to accept a proposal by Chairman Ajit Pai entitled Restoring Internet Freedom,” considered a first step toward undoing rules passed in 2015 that govern “net neutrality.”

The “net neutrailty” rules, which were passed under the Obama Administration, prevent internet service providers from giving different levels of service based on the source or the content. Thus, they cannot speed up service to people streaming movies from a company they own, or slow it down for someone streaming from a competitor.

Pai’s plan “asks whether it would make sense to have the industry police itself, whether anti-trust regulations would be enough to stem any bad behavior, and whether it even makes sense to automatically assume that harm comes from things like paid prioritization (speeding up traffic from businesses that pay) or throttling (slowing down certain kinds of traffic.)” according to Bloomberg. Instead of proposing a set of rules, he has asked for comments about how to structure them, in a process that could take months, and which pits tech companies like Google, Facebook and Netflix, which favor net neutrality, against telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon.

I think we can stipulate almost to a certainty that whatever the FCC does will be the subject of a lawsuit,” said Symons.

Added Feder, “I think they’re going to alter the rules because they’re going to change the legal underpinnings of them. I think it’s too soon to say how that will fare legally.”

What else to watch for: Both Symons and Feder are expecting the new administration to work on new rules regarding media ownership, and privacy.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of work around developing what the regime is going to be” regarding privacy and media ownership, said Feder.

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