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Gary Epstein’s communications practice is out of this world. The 60-year-old Latham & Watkins partner is best-known for his expertise on satellite and international regulatory issues, although his work spans the telecommunications industry. William Kennard, a former chairman and general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission, says that during his government service, “I basically saw every communications lawyer in the country, so I have a good basis for comparison.” And Epstein is “one of the smartest, most versatile lawyers I’ve ever seen.” These days, Epstein is representing XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. before the FCC to win approval for its merger with Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. The high-profile deal is facing tough scrutiny from regulators, who question whether the combination will benefit consumers. In addition, current FCC policy bars either company from acquiring the other’s satellite radio license. Dara Altman, executive vice president of business and legal affairs at XM, calls Epstein “a superb lawyer with excellent judgment and broad knowledge of the communications laws.” She adds, “He is also a pleasure to work with.” In another satellite deal earlier this year, Epstein represented General Electric Capital Corp. The company swapped its 19.5 percent holding in satellite operator SES for assets and cash in a transaction worth $1.7 billion. Epstein handles a regular stream of telecom transactions on behalf of the Carlyle Group, where former FCC Chairman Kennard is now a managing director. The private equity firm turns to Epstein for telecom transactions, says Kennard, because of his “deep regulatory knowledge and because he’s a good deal lawyer. It’s one-stop shopping.” One large part of Epstein’s practice focuses on international issues. He’s been retained by foreign governments and investors to advise on privatizations and restructurings of telecom sectors in such countries as Kuwait, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Venezuela, Argentina, the former East Germany, and Poland. “Living in Pakistan for weeks at a time was an experience that has never been duplicated in my professional life, either before or since,” says Epstein wryly. Another big project was his work as facilitator of the Intercarrier Compensation Forum, a coalition that included SBC Telecommunications Inc., AT&T Corp., Sprint Corp., and Global Crossing North America Inc. Their goal was to reform the complex system of charges — amounting to billions of dollars a year — that telecom carriers pay to access other carriers’ networks. The current system is more than 25 years old, and Epstein argues that it makes little sense in today’s world of wireless communication and Internet phone service. After several years of work, the group’s recommendations were presented to the FCC in 2004, says Epstein, but the commission has yet to move on the matter. “It may be too big a bite,” he says. In the broadcast arena, one of Epstein’s longtime clients is ICBC Broadcast Holdings Inc., a minority-owned company with 18 radio stations in urban markets around the country. Vice Chairman Skip Finley calls Epstein “fabulous.” Finley describes Epstein’s style as calm and affable: “In every single transaction, no matter how adversarial, everyone likes him. Gary is always able to negotiate and smooth things over.” Finley also points out that Epstein, a former chief of the FCC’s Common Carrier Bureau, “has been on both sides of the desk. He understands the regulatory side and the operational side of the business.” An undergraduate electrical engineering major, Epstein earned his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1971. He then joined Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn in Washington, making partner in 1978. When Mark Fowler, a casual acquaintance, was named chairman of the FCC in 1981, he recruited Epstein to serve as chief of the Common Carrier Bureau — even though Fowler was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and Epstein says he’s “always been a middle-of-the-road Democrat.” “I wanted to get the best possible thinker,” Fowler recalls. “[Epstein] is very bright, very thorough, and he knows the law. He’s very efficient with his time, and he has excellent judgment. Put all those together and you have an exceptionally gifted attorney.” Epstein served as chief of the Common Carrier Bureau (now called the Wireline Competition Bureau) from 1981 to 1983 and describes it as “a great time.” When he left, he joined Latham to start the firm’s communications practice in Washington. He continues to serve as firmwide head of the practice, which has grown to about 35 lawyers. Notable colleagues include Teresa Baer, Eric Bernthal, Karen Brinkmann, and John Janka.

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