AFTER A tumultuous year involving a High Court case, a class action and continually evolving regulatory changes, Telstra’s group general counsel, Will Irving, said the international award he recently accepted is in recognition of the success of his in-house team.
While some of Telstra’s recent legal challenges have been successful and some not, Irving said his team has used the experience to realise what direction the industry is taking on how to promote investment and the need for next generation network development
Irving flew to Munich, Germany, to receive the International Bar Association’s 2008 Communications Law Committee’s award for outstanding achievement by an in-house counsel. The award was the first of its kind, and presented at the 19th Annual Communications and Competition Law Conference.
The award comes within a year that’s been volatile for Telstra’s in-house team as well as all lawyers and regulators in the telecommunications sector who are grappling with how to set the right framework for the significant investment in fibre networks across Australia.
In 2007, the Telstra in-house team successfully pitched its defence in the $1.1 billion C7 litigation, took a review of a Competition Notice from ACCC to the Federal Court (which was later quashed by the court) and settled a shareholder class action on what it says were favourable terms.
Speaking on the High Court decision against Telstra, Irving said the case has been a critical factor in Telstra’s current decisions on investment. “Whatever the outcome the court gave us, we know now what the law is and, therefore, we’re able to make investment decisions accordingly,” he said.
Even with a class action behind him, Irving notes the positives to come from the experience. “Many companies have faced class actions, but fewer have come through as easily as we have,” he said. “They’re very easy things to launch, and even harder things to fight.”
Irving told Lawyers Weekly of some of the pressing difficulties facing the in-house teams of telcos, and how they’re overcome. “We are determined to use the law to hold regulators and our competitors to the same high standards of accountability as we are held,” he said.
The business of telecommunications is tough and more so than other industries — in-house legal teams are required to not only deal with the legal operations of the business, but the added complexities of the volatile laws and regulations that surround telecommunications.
“We’ve got these complex networks,” he said. “Once you have multiple providers in the industry, each has to not just talk to each other, they also have to trade with each other. Telstra’s biggest customer is Optus and Optus’s biggest customer is Telstra.”
Meanwhile continually evolving regulations and technology mean telecommunications law is ever changing. “In Australia you had the duopoly in the fixed-line sense and triopoly in the mobile sense in the 1990s,” said Irving, “you then had open competitions from 1997. So we’ve now got close to 200 carriers in Australia.”