CompTel/ASCENT CEO H. Russell Frisby Jr. announced in late November he will step down from the post he has held with the group for nearly seven years.
“It’s time to look in new directions,” he says. “I am interested in getting back to the law, which is my initial background.”
Frisby’s resume includes private practice and also a career- and philosophy-shaping stint as a staff attorney during the drafting of the second Computer Inquiry. In its Computer I decision (1966-71), the FCC distinguished between communications, computing and hybrid services. It determined that non-Bell telephone companies could enter data communications through a separate subsidiary. BOCs could not engage in data communications. Several years later, in its Computer II Inquiry (1976-81), the FCC distinguished ‘basic’ and ‘enhanced’ services, deregulating the latter.
“Back in ’79, I joined the Common Carrier Bureau of the FCC, and I was assigned to the Computer II task force and ended up writing significant portions of the Computer II decision. It was a learning experience. It helped me understand the basics of the industry and also where the industry was going,” says Frisby in an interview with PHONE+. “This is why I am somewhat disappointed with some of the things the FCC has done of late because I think the Computer II model has worked and will continue to work. It’s as a result of Computer II that you have the development of the Internet, the development of competition. So I am bit sad that the FCC appears to be going in a different direction.”
Specifically, Frisby is disappointed with the FCC’s decision to phase out UNE-P. “Obviously, I wish the UNE-P had gone differently,” he says. “I don’t have regrets. We did what we had to do, but we lost.”
Frisby came to CompTel after serving as an aide to FCC Commissioner Joseph R. Fogarty (D-RI) and a term as a commissioner for the Maryland Public Service Commission and vice chairman of the telecommunications committee for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners - roles he says helped prepare him for understanding both sides of the arguments and in setting policy and strategy for CompTel/ASCENT.
“I am very proud of my service at CompTel,” he says. “When I first came here, a number of industry insiders thought both CompTel and the competitive industry would be dead within a year to two years. Almost seven years later, we are still around.
“I also am proud about the fact that we hung in there for the last seven years in a tough political fight - a fight where all the smart money had written us off years ago. …We haven’t won every battle, but we have survived and we have still got millions of customers out there. That’s a miracle in itself, and I am proud of that.”
J. Sherman Henderson III, chairman of CompTel/ASCENT’s board of directors and president and CEO of Lightyear Network Solutions LLC, praised Frisby’s tenure. “During the past six years, the competitive telecommunications landscape has changed dramatically, and with Russell at the helm, CompTel/ASCENT has risen to the challenges and adapted in numerous ways to ensure that the association’s members receive the best representation,” he said in a statement.
Frisby says the pressure on competitors is unlikely to let up. “It’s going to be tough for the competitive industry,” he says. “What we are seeing is that a number of competitive companies are going to have to change their business strategies much more quickly than they had thought [as a result of the FCC’s final unbundling rules].”
Where will Frisby go from here? “I doubt I will be going far,” he says, hinting at a return to the competitive telecommunications industry.
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