Baller Stokes & Lide has deep experience with federal communications law, particularly as it applies to broadband projects. Read on for details of our experience in community broadband, economic development, infrastructure & contracts, and cable television.
The only law firm in America named to Broadband Community Magazine’s FTTH Top 100 from 2012 through 2016, Baller Stokes & Lide has been involved in most of the leading community broadband projects during the last decade and is widely regarded as the most experienced and knowledgeable firm in America in this area. The Firm provides a broad range of legal, regulatory and legislative representation, as well as strategic planning assistance, to public entities that have entered, or are considering entry, into the communications marketplace. The Firm’s clients have pursued a variety of entry strategies, ranging from leasing infrastructure to forging public/private partnerships to offering a full suite of communications services themselves. The firm also assists public entities in doing everything necessary to comply with start-up and ongoing federal and state regulatory requirements.
Since the enactment of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Baller Stokes & Lide has been involved in numerous court and administrative battles in support of local Internet choice, including community broadband initiatives. For example, in 2015, as lead counsel to the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, TN, and the City of Wilson, TN, the Firm persuaded the Federal Communications Division to preempt the Tennessee and North Carolina laws that posed barriers to municipal broadband initiatives. (Note: The FCC’s action was subsequently overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.) In addition, since 1996 the Firm has been involved in most of the key federal and state legislative battles involving state barriers to public entry.
Baller Stokes & Lide has deep experience with the federal communications laws, particularly as they apply to broadband projects. We have often represented clients before Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the Rural Utilities Service, and various other federal agencies in matters involving state barriers to entry; poles, towers, and other critical infrastructure issues; cable franchising; right-of-way management issues; “level playing field” matters; access to customers and content; universal service funding obligations and E-Rate subsidies; broadband stimulus matters; public safety (including FirstNet); privacy; copyrights; assistance to law enforcement; and many other issues. As a result of these activities, we are sensitive to nuances of current and potential federal legislation, regulation, and litigation that could contribute to the success or failure of public communications projects.
Baller Stokes & Lide has unparalleled expertise in the legal and political issues surrounding the authority of public entities to provide or facilitate the provision of communications services. For the past fifteen years, we have participated in almost every federal and state legislative and judicial battle over the authority of public entities to participate in public communications projects. We have also been a leading voice in refuting criticisms of community broadband voiced by established communications providers and their experts and supporters.
Baller Stokes & Lide has dealt with a broad range of business models and organizational structures through which entities can organize and operate their projects. These include municipal ownership, public-private and public-public partnerships of all kinds, cooperatives, non-profits, multi-party consortia, and many others.
We have frequently assisted our clients in evaluating and using their purchasing power as a means of lowering their costs and maximizing benefits for their communities. Conversely, we have also assisted project developers in identifying and forming relationships with anchor tenants.
Baller Stokes & Lide has developed and negotiated hundreds of individual contracts involving pole, duct, and conduit attachments; tower siting; rights-of-way; interconnection and collocation agreements; dark and lit fiber leases and IRUs; network operator/management agreements; maintenance agreements; customer sales agreements; and many other forms of agreements.
Among Baller Stokes & Lide’s core competencies is helping our clients identify and comply with applicable federal and state regulatory requirements, from start-up to ongoing operation.
Baller Stokes & Lide often combats anticompetitive practices by incumbents, including predatory pricing, targeted rate discrimination, denial of access to content or potential customers, threatening contractors, and “dirty tricks” of various kinds. For example, we won a large federal jury verdict against Comcast for violating Florida’s deceptive and unfair trade practices laws in attempting to thwart our client from competing successfully for customers in multiple-tenant buildings. Marco Island Cable v. Comcast of the South, Inc., 312 Fed.Appx. 211, 2009 WL 349288 (C.A.11 (Fla.)). We also wrote an extensive report for the Senate Commerce Committee documenting dozens of examples of anticompetitive practices by incumbent cable companies.
Baller Stokes & Lide does not claim to have expertise in tax or municipal finance, but we regularly work with tax and municipal finance counsel involved in public broadband projects. As a result, we can help our clients ensure that they are addressing key tax and finance issues.
We believe that broadband can be an engine to drive economic growth in a community. Click here to see economic development articles in our resource library.
Infrastructure & Contracts
Baller Stokes & Lide is widely known for its expertise in addressing broadband infrastructure issues, including poles, ducts, conduits, fiber (leases, swaps, IRUs, etc.), DAS / small cell projects, towers, easements, and rights-of-way ordinances, contracts, and other documents. Our model pole attachment agreements are widely used in many states, and we authored and recently updated an extensive guidebook on pole attachments for the American Public Power Association and its 2,000 member municipal utilities.
We have developed and negotiated hundreds of individual contracts involving pole, duct, and conduit attachments; tower siting; rights-of-way; interconnection and collocation agreements; dark and lit fiber leases and IRUs; network operator/management agreements; maintenance agreements; customer sales agreements; and many other forms of agreements.
Baller Stokes & Lide has extensive experience assisting local franchising authorities with the review and negotiation of complex cable TV franchise agreements.
Broadband systems that provide video programming and other content must make arrangements to acquire the content from programming creators, programming distributors, national and local broadcasters, syndicators and other entities. This requires knowledge and experience with the Federal Communications Commission’s programming access, must carry/retransmission consent, network non-duplication, syndicated program exclusivity, and other rules, as well as the current practices of industry participants nationwide. We have deep experience in such matters.
Public Right of Way Practices
Baller Stokes & Lide regularly assists local governments in matters relating to the use of public rights of way for communications infrastructure, defending municipalities’ and counties’ duty to protect the public interest while facilitating the deployment of modern communications technology to serve citizens and businesses. Among other approaches, we advise localities on strategies for the modernization of antiquated ordinances and the integration of disparate ordinances into a master right-of-way use ordinance, where appropriate.
Other Practice Areas
Public Safety: As legal counsel to the District of Columbia Office of Chief Technology Officer, the state coordinator for public safety and FirstNet matters, Baller Stokes & Lide is actively involved in a variety of public safety issues.
Privacy, Intellectual Property, and Law Enforcement: We wrote a comprehensive guidebook on federal privacy law for the American Public Power Association and its members, and we have advised numerous entities on how to comply with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act, and other similar laws.
Public Health: For many years, Baller Stokes & Lide represented scientists studying the health effects of wireless technologies in a class action challenging their research methodology. As a result, we have substantial knowledge of the legal, factual, and political issues surrounding the health risks associated with wireless technologies.
Broadband Stimulus: An article on the Broadband Stimulus program called Baller Stokes & Lide the “nation’s foremost expert” on stimulus matters. We lobbied for the enactment of several of the key provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and then participated actively in the rulemaking proceedings to implement the Act before the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Rural Utilities Service. Baller Stokes & Lide also helped numerous entities obtain broadband stimulus funds and is currently assisting these and other clients in developing their projects in compliance with all applicable legal requirements. Jim Baller also recently helped NTIA and OneCommunity organize a mid-course workshop for nearly 500 BTOP awardees.
Bankruptcy: Baller Stokes & Lide represented the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, several state organizations, and numerous local governments in the Adelphia bankruptcy proceeding.
Current Developments: Baller Stokes & Lide reports on current developments through our daily email list, which is read by thousands of individuals in the communications field every business day. To obtain prompt access to important information that is not available through ordinary media channels, we always give credit to those who beat us to a news item. As a result, we have often obtained access to breaking news more quickly than other news outlets, and we have become a clearinghouse of valuable information for public entities.