The Legal Side Of 5G — Collaboration Is Key With Kevin Jones

Smart cities are the thing of the future, thanks to the immeasurable power of 5G. These advanced urban centers are built not just with a wide understanding of cutting-edge technology but also the legal side of the project. Proper collaboration with city heads and councils is a significant part of this process. Joining Carrie Charles is Kevin Jones, a partner at Zublatt & Jones. He explains the intricacies of building smart cities powered by 5G technology and the right approach when presenting proposed plans. Kevin also talks about the impact of smart city technology on various industries and what can be expected from it in the future.

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The Legal Side Of 5G — Collaboration Is Key With Kevin Jones

I’m glad that you are with me. We have an exciting episode. We are going to be taking a look at the legal side of 5G. I have with me a special guest Kevin Jones. He is a partner with the law firm Zublatt & Jones. Kevin, tell me more about the law firm, the clients you serve, your niche, and a little bit about your role in the 5G ecosystem.

I’m Kevin Jones, a partner in the law firm Zublatt & Jones. We are located in Central New Jersey. We are a small firm, as my partner and mentor, Alan Zublatt, likes to say. We have a small group, have large clients, and have been serving the telecom industry for several years, and Alan Zublatt is much longer than that.

We have developed wonderful relationships with not only the wireless carriers but also infrastructure providers, public utilities, and municipalities. We worked closely with a lot of municipalities throughout the Northeast, particularly New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and some New York municipalities, to facilitate the deployment of wireless technology. As you know, it has evolved tremendously over the last several years, and it is going to continue to evolve at an even more rapid pace.

Kevin, when you were a young man, did you say, “When I grow up, I want to be in law and telecom?” How did you choose this area of law? I know it is something that a lot of new attorneys or prospective attorneys in law school do not necessarily have an option. Tell me that story.

I did not even know what Telecom Law was. Like a lot of young lawyers in law school, I wanted to get a Law degree, and I could change the world. That is what I ended up doing now, changing it in different ways, deploying next-generation technology, and helping people live, learn and continue to take advantage of the wonderful technologies.

It was not planned. In my first job out of law school, I worked with the land use real estate firm in Southern New Jersey. I had a good time there, learned a lot, worked with some wonderful people and somehow, by chance, I met Alan Zublatt. He was at a Telecom Law firm. I said, “Tell me more about this.” He talked. You’ve got one chance to make a first impression. Equally, we are impressed upon the other. We developed a relationship. I worked and learned from him for a long time.

Alan Zublatt, if you have not heard of him, most people in the Northeast probably have, was one of the early pioneers of Telecom Law, particularly in the State of New Jersey. In the initial stages, carriers were starting to deploy their networks in towns, municipalities, and the public. They did not want them in many cases. He had some great stories about the opposition that he faced, representing some of the carriers or the infrastructure providers.

Everybody wanted their municipal towns to regulate where they put these things but they all wanted their little cellular phones to work. There is always a happy medium somewhere in between. It is not always happy. At the end of the day, our firm has been successful in helping get all of these things deployed in sometimes tough places, the municipalities, and the public work with us. That is a good thing. You develop a synergy, address obstacles, identify any crossroads that you are going to have to overcome, strategize and develop plans.

In our firm, we have a unique collaborative approach. The attorneys work together. We have group discussions, and we come up with collaborative approaches because you may know something but it is good to have many voices and thoughts. We tackle the same issue. It is a strength in numbers when it comes to citing these things.

We are in a great industry with a huge future ahead of us but it is also complicated now. I know that you all are busy there. You have another role. I remember when I first met you at the Connectivity Expo, which was in Orlando in 2021. You had received a certification as a Smart City Practitioner. This is interesting to being in law. What motivated you to get this certification? How do you see that you are going to be using this?

It was an exciting opportunity. The Smart Cities Council is a global organization. They work with implementing smart city technologies across the entire world. At Connect (X), they had The Smart Cities Academy. I was certainly intrigued by being on the legal and also the consulting side of things. I want to go to learn more.

Collecting data, storing data, and distributing data are what 5G technology entails.

I’m representing clients that are deploying this technology, which is going to create connected, smart-type cities. There was a pretty rigorous course. We had many lectures, and the certification became complete about 1 or 2 weeks later when you had taken an exam. Upon taking and passing that exam, they issue Smart Cities Practitioner Certification. At this time, there are more now, but at the time, there were roughly about 300 plus folks with that certification. It was informative to me. As we continue to see these smart cities grow around us, these concepts and approaches that I learned can be helpful.

It can also be helpful for your clients as well. What is your approach when you are working with municipalities and representing your clients? I know there are so many challenges here. We are deploying small cells infrastructure. There are a lot of challenges that the providers are dealing with. Walk me through that process or your approach when you were working with the cities.

A lot of times, you will have municipalities who are interested in this technology but do not know the first thing about it. The first step, and it always works well for me, is to speak with the decision-makers in the municipalities. Speak with the mayors and council. Let them know what a particular carrier may want to deploy, how it can benefit the particular municipality and all the different ways that this can possibly benefit their constituents and their public, the people that elect and keep them in office. They are going to have to pitch it to them. If they understand it better, sometimes it makes it easier for them to work with any entity to deploy it.

There are also new Federal Laws. The FCC passed what they called it the 5G Order a few years ago. It changed the landscape. One of the titles of the order, part of it is the rapid Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications or 5G. That allows carriers and infrastructure providers to place telecom equipment in the right of way.

A lot of folks were not aware of that or they did not know the parameters of the law. It is a good discussion to have with the local decision-makers, the public utilities who own a lot of the infrastructure. A lot of these small cells will deploy 5G, smart city technology or be deployed close to the end-users. They are going to be on existing light poles, telephone poles, and infrastructure that several years ago, we did not install many antennas on the phone, a light pole outside of your business. It’s because of the way 5G technology works, the capacity needs and the need to be close to the end-user have to be closer to the ground level.

A lot of times, towns are not aware of this. It makes sense to show them. You come with demonstrations, photo simulations, and site walks. I have been on site walks with multiple municipal officials and historic preservation folks to talk about where these things should go and strategically develop plans that involve helping.

There are some creative designs that I have seen that disguise small cell antennas as light posts and poles that you would not know contain wireless equipment if someone did tell you. That is the goal a lot of times. If you think about it, you are used to seeing telephone poles and light poles our whole lives. We have seen those ugly wires but we need that for the electricity, telephones and all of those things. When you deploy something on that existing infrastructure, it is not a huge visual impact many times because we are used to seeing these big transformers outside of our business window. If you put an antenna about the size of a Home Depot bucket, many people do not even know.

The benefits certainly, in all cases, outweigh any detriments there. A good answer to your question to address what you were saying is to work directly with the municipalities. I often reach out to the solicitors or the attorneys. We speak about the laws. We say, “Let’s get your arms around this new FCC order.” It is widespread and has a lot of nuances that not only allow the carriers of deployment. It also allows the municipality to work with the carriers and determine where and how these are deployed.

I always feel a collaborative approach is the best way to do that. You have honey and vinegar approaches. 99 out of 100 times, I always come with honey. I have been pretty successful in developing good relationships and, in many cases, developing successful deployments of 5G technology. Down the road, as they continue to understand this technology and evolve, it will also lead to smart cities. We are in the fledgling stages in the United States in terms of smart cities.

There are few cities out there now, but within the next several years, you will see more and more of this technology being deployed. Those are some technologies like autonomous vehicles connected cities, smart kiosks, digital lighting, and digital parking. We have worked with one of the major cities in New Jersey for one of the major carriers to work with law enforcement to enhance something called ShotSpotter Technology.

When you have high crime areas, this helps local police and first responders deal with shots, which are gunshots and things of that nature. That’s amazing technology. It works in real-time. It has been around for a few years but when it is deployed with 5G, it works even faster. You always want to do whatever you can to make cities operate more efficiently, safer, have a more productive, streamlined, and efficient deployment of public resources.

5TT 73 | Smart Cities
Smart Cities: Speak with the decision-makers in the municipalities. Let them know what a particular carrier may want to deploy, how it can benefit the municipality, and how this can benefit their constituents.

How do you help the cities become smart cities or deploy more of these technologies?

There are a lot of options out there. A lot of times, we speak to the mayor, CFOs or town managers. The Infrastructure Act was passed the right around the same time we were in Orlando. It was around November 2016. In that bill, there is a lot of opportunity for broadband funding and 5G funding for municipalities to secure to help with this.

Funding is always a problem, and it is always something that precludes what a municipality may want to do. A lot of times, it’s working with the carriers, and it carries also want to deploy their 5G installations throughout municipalities. It is good that the town will know that. It is going to benefit you and your customers. They can also benefit us, our first responders.

We can streamline our entire public work system in terms of parking, traffic cams, law enforcement, fire companies, and things of that nature. They all benefit from it. It is a big ecosystem. There are three tenets of the Smart Cities Academy. They highlight these things every day. It is livability, workability, and sustainability.

All of those things go hand in hand when deploying smart city infrastructure. It is new. A lot of towns have to figure out how to do it, “How do we fit that in our budget? If we do, we have to sell this to our folks.” A lot of times, carriers are going to come in, try to expand, and continue to enhance their networks anyway. When you have this 5G Order that allows them to place these within the rights of ways, it is the best of both worlds.

Now you know that the carriers are going to have more reliable networks and higher speed data. It is all about data. Collecting data, storing data, and distributing data is what all of this new technology entails. If you like to drive in a car through a city and have kids like mine, who like to watch YouTube, he is watching a 4K video as you are driving through a city. You would like to do that for him to do that to be quiet. There will be no interruption and buffering.

If you have a call, having a Zoom like we are doing now, you are moving, on an airplane or a train, enhanced technology can help all of those things function much better. It makes a lot of people work and learn from home. This infrastructure was tested. The capacity of the existing infrastructure was probably tested and strained. You realize, in some places, we do not have good connectivity. All of this stuff works together to create ecosystems and better communities for all of this.

I could see how you would create a collaborative working environment. There have got to be many or some challenges that you face with your work, clients, cities, and in general. Can you talk a little bit about those challenges that you see regularly and how you deal with those challenges?

Several years ago, we worked with one of the largest urban cities in New Jersey and one of the largest wireless caverns to bring 5G technology and infrastructure within the rights of way. There were some apprehensive feelings. They said, “Why us?” Our response was, “Why not you?” This urban city is surrounded by universities, institutions, public business centers, public government centers, and state government buildings where everyone works. It is well-traveled. People may not always live there but they travel to learn from this particular city all the time.

It was a long marathon, certainly not a sprint. We worked with the mayor, council, individual educational institutions, fire department, the police department, the public parks and tried to get them to understand how this could benefit them. At the end of the day, after a long road, they approved it. This carrier is starting to deploy in this city, and they are going to be one of the few smart cities in the State of New Jersey. They are ahead of the curve here. Several years back, we will look at this as a success story and possibly a roadmap in how to deal with an urban deployment.

Not too far from this urban center, there was an affluent suburban area, 10 to 15 miles apart from the city, that I was referencing. This wireless carrier wanted to deploy 5G there. This is different and more challenging to different particular municipalities. We had challenges but with the same approach. We work with the mayor and township’s solicitors. We presented in front of the council.

The main goal is to reach a solution everyone can live with and move forward with 5G technology because it is coming.

If you educate, enlighten, and provide them with all the information they need and answer all of the questions, hopefully, they leave no stone unturned. You work with the public utilities. You are creating not an adversarial position but it is more of a partnership with this particular municipality because it is a longstanding relationship. Hopefully, down the road, the town benefits as much as everyone else with these deployments. It is an ongoing process across the entire nation and the world. Our firm is an integral part of the system, all sides in doing that.

It sounds like it requires an enormous amount of patience.

It does on both sides because you want to make sure each side understands. Everyone has an end game or a goal but at the end of the day, these goals could shift, and things can change. You create a lasting relationship in that collaborative approach at the beginning that you create. Hopefully, it helps you evolve as the future of technology evolves. We all know what we have now in several years is going to be obsolete in many areas. We will be adapting to the ever-evolving telecom space.

You have a unique perspective where you are seeing both sides. You see it from the carrier point of view, and you see it from the city’s point of view. Do you think that this gives you an edge in what you do?

I’m able to gain a dual perspective on both sides. You understand what the needs and wants of each particular side are. My goal is to never fit one against the other, as I mentioned multiple times to get everybody to work together. We all have common goals. Towns, carriers, public utilities, people who live and work in particular towns all have common goals. They like connected cities.

Within several years and speaking to some of the industry leaders, we are going to have autonomous vehicles ubiquitous everywhere. That is hard to imagine but if you look now, you will see EV charging stations everywhere. You are seeing more Teslas on the road. Not just Tesla, you see Chevy and Ford. Honda and Nissan are creating electric vehicles that also have autonomous driving capabilities.

For any of that to work, there is a lot of legal, red tape, and regulations that will certainly come along with it. You also need the core of that. The core and foundation of any of that is a robust wireless infrastructure because of the capacity and data that is going to be required. It’s a long road ahead but I see it evolving, successes, and progress each and every day in this industry. That is what makes it exciting to me.

I bought my Tesla, and I’ve got a Model 3. I had to wait three months and had this charger installed in my garage. It feels so good to pull and plug it in. I unplug it and drive away. It is such a great experience. My kids also have Model 3 as well. We are a Tesla family, and it has been awesome. I can see what you are saying. There’s the piece of it I’m struggling with, and whoever is reading these several years from now is going to go, “Why is she saying this?”

It is a fully automated driving feature. I did not get that. I’m not quite there yet, but I can see what you are talking about and see the future. Talking about the future a little bit more, do you see from your perspective, from where you are sitting on the legal side of 5G, any trends in our industry, anything that we need to pay attention to, or anything interesting that you are seeing?

The FCC has its finger on the pulse of what is to come and what needs to happen to deploy this technology more rapidly. There is anyone in this industry that will tell you that. There is a regulatory lag that slows projects down, and you get caught in a regulatory lag. Deployments are delayed. Sometimes it is counterproductive.

You have a launch date or prospective launch date of a year from now. You get caught in multiple delays for multiple regulatory reasons. It can be at the local level, the state level, the county level, environmental groups, and a lot of things that all are factored in terms of the newer FCC regs. Sometimes this can be difficult to navigate, and there are many potholes that you have to navigate over and through to ultimately get to yes. That is the challenge, and one of the mottos of our firm is, “No matter what, we are going to try to get to yes.” By yes, I mean collaboratively to reach a solution that everyone is happy with at the end of the day.

5TT 73 | Smart Cities
Smart Cities: Partnering with municipalities when building smart cities is a longstanding relationship. It must not create an adversarial situation.

Even if it is a tough process and both people have strong positions on each end of the spectrum, at the end of the day, the goal is to reach a solution that everyone can live with and move forward with this technology because it is coming. If you look at some nations like New Zealand, Singapore, and some parts of Japan, they have already deployed smart city technology.

I know autonomous vehicles are in certain areas but that is still to come. I do know not just autonomous vehicles but EVs are becoming more attractive. Your whole family probably is celebrating that decision now. You see the price of the gas, breeze by the gas stations, and do not even have to worry. Plugin your car like you do your phone every night and charge it. It is a pretty good solution to this gas issue we are having.

I want to touch on talent because on the show, I like to highlight different areas of telecom, 5G, and technology, and look at where can our young people and every people who want to change careers or use transferable skills. Where can they go within this ecosystem to find their next career journey? This is one of them, which is the legal side of 5G.

My son is in law school, and my daughter is going to go to law school. I do not know how I became lucky. I love attorneys. It is going to be an interesting and dynamic family. There are other opportunities, and many opportunities for talented people to get involved with our great industry in different areas, and legal is one of them. I’m sure that, at times, you are hiring and open to new talent.

In terms of attorneys, the practice of Telecom Law often happens organically. I do not remember any course or law school that mentioned telecom at all. It is a hybrid collection of different areas of the law from land use, zoning, planning to Corporate Law. There are a lot of other areas, the real estate, public governance, and law aspect of it. It is a hybrid area.

A general legal practitioner with interest in telecom could find a happy space and embark on a wonderful career in Telecom Law. Telecom Law is a niche practice but it also involves many areas of the law. Real estate is huge. You have to find and lease infrastructure or area in space to deploy these antennas. Everything is not going to be in the right of way.

You need buildings, water tanks, work with municipalities, tower companies, and all of that. A lot of the infrastructure providers and tower companies of the world are great places to embark on a career. I know many folks with whom I have worked with tower companies for their entire careers, and they love what they do. It is a pretty interesting work across the board. There are a lot of different roles, from site acquisition and specialists. You have to identify the sites and negotiate with landlords. There are so many different roles. It is a wonderful group of folks that you and I get to meet every year at the Connect (X) and a lot of the inventions that the telecom company throws.

You said at the beginning that you started in law school with the excitement around changing the world, and it looks like you are doing that in your career in the law field in telecom. That is what people have to look forward to. I know that you have inspired many people now. Kevin, where can we learn more about your law firm, Zublatt & Jones, and get in touch with you?

Our law firm is ZublattJones.com. All of my contact information is on there. I would be happy to talk to anyone regarding everything we talked about here. 5G, deployment, and Telecom Law are near and dear to my heart. I love to have conversations and meet new people in the industry all the time.

I can feel your passion for it. Thank you so much for being on the show. This has been wonderful.

Thank you so much for having me. It is my pleasure.

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About Kevin Jones

5TT 73 | Smart CitiesKevin R. Jones is an owner/shareholder with the firm Zublatt & Jones, P.C. His practice is primarily focused on land use and zoning with an emphasis on telecommunications law. He has been practicing law for over 19 years and has represented many major wireless telecommunications carriers and infrastructure providers, as well as commercial developers and both large and small businesses in connection with various telecommunications, real estate, zoning and transactional matters throughout the northeast.

Mr. Jones regularly appears before municipal and state land use boards as well as municipal governing bodies. He has obtained 1000’s of governmental approvals for a wide range of telecommunications matters throughout the region ranging from new raw land towers to collocations, small cells, edge data centers, CLEC’s, 5G, IoT and other wireless deployments throughout the northeast region.

Mr. Jones is also a Certified Smart Cities Practitioner and works with both carriers and municipalities to deploy advanced wireless technology to facilitate smart infrastructure and connectivity.

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