In the midst of the hyper-fast pace that typically characterizes the wireless industry, it’s worthwhile to take a step back to remember someone who had a hand in making wireless a competitive industry in the first place.
James A. Dwyer, Jr. was one of those people. His friends and colleagues remember him as Jim or Jimmy, the guy with a sparkle in his eyes and a generous spirit. Mr. Dwyer died last week at his home in Fort Myers, Fla., after an extended illness. Born Dec. 31, 1936, in Woodside, Queens, New York City, he lived a true “rags to riches” life.
He was remembered yesterday with a funeral service, which, I’m told, was filled with family, friends, former and current employees. Former Verizon Wireless CEO Dennis Strigl – once a competitor of Mr. Dwyer’s and a friend at the same time – was there to deliver the eulogy. This is what Strigl had to say about Mr. Dwyer in a press release earlier this week: “I can’t think of an individual with a higher degree of integrity. Jim was a genuine, down-to-earth individual who kept growing businesses, and one of his strongest contributions was the honesty he brought to the business world. The people who worked for him and with him loved the man.”
Colleagues who knew him well – and apparently, it wasn’t hard to get to know him – say he was one of the key figures who persuaded the FCC to let radio common carriers, or RCCs, apply for licenses to offer commercial services rather than giving it all to the monopoly AT&T.
The FCC’s thinking at the time, according to a source, was that AT&T was the only one with the technology and know-how to implement commercial cellular services. Mr. Dwyer disagreed and led the charge to open the cellular application process to non-wireline companies, going to the commission and questioning why they would give a monopoly to a monopoly. Mr. Dwyer and his allies were persuasive and ended up with the opportunity to apply for spectrum licenses. In the 1980s, the FCC allocated spectrum for B-side carriers and A-side carriers, the latter being in the non-wireline group.
In 1984, Mr. Dwyer’s team would end up launching the third cellular system in the country in Indianapolis (after Chicago, part of the Illinois Bell wireline system, and Washington/Baltimore, a non-wireline system, in 1983). Attorney Liz Maxfield, who worked with Mr. Dwyer and many others over the years, says Indianapolis was the second non-wireline system to launch but third overall. Mr. Dwyer built Indianapolis from the ground up in an amazingly quick fashion, she recalls.
Seeing a need for the entire ecosystem to work together – wireline and independent wireless companies alike – Mr. Dwyer was a founding member of CTIA, where he served on the board from its inception in 1984 until 2000. This is how Trilogy Partners founder John Stanton (also former CEO of Western Wireless and VoiceStream Wireless) remembers it: “When we first discussed the notion of creating CTIA at a lunch with executives from several of the Regional Bell companies, I looked around and thought that Jimmy was the guy I would most want to be in a fox hole with in that situation,” Stanton said. “He was a brilliant lawyer, but never intimidated anyone, and a strategic genius, but you never knew that until he had executed his strategy.”
During 1995 and 1996, Mr. Dwyer was chairman of the CTIA board and led the association through the big Congressional revision of the Telecom Act of 1996.
There’s much more to Mr. Dwyer’s life than can be covered here, but I put him in the category of forward-thinking wireless industry pioneers who fought hard for a competitive environment. Yes, much has transpired since that time, and consolidation has removed players. Yet while AT&T and Verizon Wireless dominate the airwaves today, there are many, many others, including newcomers like LightSquared and the relatively new Clearwire, that are still challenging the status quo.
Of course, it behooves everyone to keep the industry in check, making sure it remains competitive. But it’s also worth noting that wireless did not grow up, so to speak, from a monopolistic point of view thanks to people like Mr. Dwyer. There was a duopoly for a period of time, but even that didn’t last, and PCS licenses awarded in the 1990s unleashed a huge wave of competition.
I do not know what Mr. Dwyer thought of the current state of competition in wireless. I also don’t know how he had time to accomplish all that he did in his 73 years – establishing and growing various businesses along with a family that included 12 children and 15 grandchildren. But his son John, with whom he co-founded Interop Technologies in 2002, intends to do his best to make him proud.
“He was my father, friend and business partner so I’ve lost much. My family, his friends and I will miss his love, silliness, vision, guidance and support more than words can ever express. I lost my rock last Friday at 6:36PM EST, but I will do my best to carry on in his honor and to make him proud,” said John Dwyer in an emailed statement.
John notes that his father made an inspiring journey from a childhood of poverty to becoming a man who changed the face of the wireless industry, and the world, as a result. But it’s that sparkle that lives on.
Filed Under: Industry regulations