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Ray Rutngamlug

I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Ray Rutngamlug when we worked together on C-band satellite matters.  Ray currently is Associate General Counsel at Intelsat, and he’s worked in other communications companies and at firms over the years, which provides him with a great perspective on how to build a career that is interesting and fulfilling.  He’s also the sort of calm, introspective person you’d want with you in the trenches.  I thought the FCBA at large should get to know Ray a bit better.   

Q. What attracted you to the field of communications?

A. I was attracted to the technology-focused aspects of the communications field.  Communications technologies were and are always in a state of evolution, so it’s challenging and exciting to keep up with changes in technology and in demand for new, previously unknown services.  Coming out of law school in 1999, I knew that I didn’t want to work in an area where I had to immerse myself in centuries of precedent and established practice.  Over the course of my career there’s been a tremendous amount of change and innovation in the industry that has brought forth all sorts of interesting legal issues for all of us to work on.

When I was a first-year associate, I started out working on projects aimed at getting more phone companies into the market, and now I am working on enabling services that allow someone sitting on a plane 35,000 feet in the air to use their phone to connect with a satellite 20,000 miles in orbit to join a videoconference with people scattered around the globe.  What’s technically possible and then economically feasible have been keys to many projects I’ve encountered.

Q. Have things unfolded in your career more or less the way you planned?

A. Don’t know that I can really say I had a plan, although I did take a seminar on communications law in law school, and then started out at a prominent telecommunications practice (Swidler & Berlin) after my law school graduation.  This was certainly a good way to start in the industry and we had lots of fun with all sorts of issues that came up at the tail end of the Telecom Act boom.

Since then, I’ve made a number of moves, which have included back and forth moves between private practice and in-house legal departments all in communications law.  The changes typically came after interesting opportunities had come my way.  I’ve been fortunate at each and every stop to have gotten to work for great mentors, colleagues and clients, and have worked in several communications industry sectors, including CLECs, ISPs, wireless, broadcast, cable, and now, most recently, satellite.

I do think that as a general matter I think I was better as an associate and partner doing communications work at law firms for having had the in-house work experience.  For one thing, I was better able to pull back from the assignment at hand and have potentially the more important discussion of the bigger picture of what the company was seeking to accomplish.  And as an in-house lawyer managing outside counsel, it’s really very helpful to have a sense of how law firms operate to have an optimal positive relationship with your outside lawyers.  So while I did not plan my career this way, it’s been building upon itself and making good use of all the work I’d done before.

Q. What’s the most interesting or challenging thing that you’ve done in your current position?

A. I’m currently Associate General Counsel at Intelsat, where I head up the US regulatory practice, as well as implementation of and compliance with Team Telecom requirements.  I’ve been here since early last year, and so far, it’s all been interesting and challenging!

I had expected to come in and focus on the company’s day-to-day regulatory work related to our everyday FCC filings (licenses, STAs, modifications, the occasional set of comments), but the company has been going through so much that has had major regulatory implications:  corporate reorganization and emergence from bankruptcy, the C-band transition, and the development of new ways to deliver service.  This means that I’ve gotten to work on some really challenging and unique projects.  I’ve also shifted back to a more regulatory focus from working the last several years prior to that in transactional and commercial roles.

So, my challenge has been orienting myself to a new company in an industry segment I’m new to, while familiarizing myself with the “bread and butter” legal issues we face.  I also am addressing the company-transformative changes we’ve been going through.  It’s been a lot of fun, and luckily, I get to work with a great regulatory and legal team and I have great support from management as well as technical and business colleagues (including my predecessor, who provided really great training before she retired) who really know what they are doing and are so dedicated to the company’s success.

Q. What do you enjoy reading?

A. I don’t get to read as much as I’d like.  For a while, I was a real magazine junkie, enjoying relatively current content and seeking lots of variety.  I have to say I read many things online now, although it’s somehow not as satisfying as handling actual paper.

More recently I bounce back and forth between escapist/speculative fiction and non-fiction.  On the fiction side, I’m currently reading a book called Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel – it’s a story about the aftermath of a flu pandemic that wipes out much of the earth’s population – perhaps that’s not so escapist after all.

On the non-fiction side, I’ve drawn from a really varied mix.  I was really into the various political memoirs that had flooded the market during the last few years – the Obama bio, John Bolton’s memoir, for instance, but I got a little burned out on that genre.  I recently read a collection of essays on Asian American experiences called “Minor Feelings” by Cathy Hong.  I love books about food (I’ve read most of Anthony Bourdain’s books) although I can’t cook to save my life.  I think like many of us, I admit to having a huge pile of “to be read someday books” at home.

Q. Can you share perspective on the pitfalls to avoid or other career advice for those who are just getting started in the communications field?

A. Looking back at people I consider successful and seeking a common thread, I would say you have to really like the industry you’re in to succeed in the long run.  Otherwise, you will be bored or your work will be uninspired.  That said, you have to have a bit of a dual mindset constantly: simultaneously diving into the technical aspects of the practice but also keeping an open mind about where technology may be taking us.

Perspective is key as well. You can’t lose sight of the legal forest by getting caught up in the technical trees.  I once worked with a junior associate who worried that he would be pigeonholed and have to work on issues related to utility poles and pole attachments his whole career.  I had to remind him that he ought not lose sight of the valuable legal experience he was getting in serving clients in this area: for example, how to do good legal research and prepare pleadings, work with transactional documents, and to serve clients, among other things.  These as well as the technical aspects of the work were the background to his development as a lawyer.

My other piece of advice is to meet as many people as you can.  Early on, networking can seem kind of pointless, but you don’t have to meet people with any specific goal other than a genuine interest in them or in what they do.  Get to know your colleagues and clients, get to know your regulators, and meet people at industry events.  This is an industry where people move around and colleagues can become clients and vice versa and the same thing goes for regulators.  Be nice and make friends as it’s a small industry and personal reputation is important.

Q. What’s something interesting about you that people are not generally aware of that you’re willing to share?

A. I played the violin and back in the day I was the concertmaster at Georgetown University.  Now I play only once in a while at friend’s weddings.  

Q. How has your life changed as a result of COVID-19? 

A. I think the shifts in day to day I experienced were pretty much the same as most people.  Especially during the early days of the pandemic, I was suddenly having to adjust to a world where you are remote from your friends, family, and work colleagues, and now, we are gradually adjusting back and trying to regain lost time.

I did change jobs during the pandemic lockdown which posed some challenges.  I left the partnership at Sheppard Mullin to head up US regulatory at Intelsat in early 2021.  This meant that I made the decision to leave a place and colleagues I loved to take a new opportunity all while remote.  I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye in person (or even to move my office belongings).  Then I had to get to know my new colleagues and in house clients remotely.  So while others have managed it, as did I, it’s more than a bit unusual.

Q. How long have you been an FCBA member and what to you is the value of FCBA membership?

A. I joined the FCBA in the mid-2000s.  What I really value about the FCBA is the community that it represents – there is such a wide range of subject matter areas, industry segments, and levels of seniority that is all tied together by a connection and common dedication to this industry.  It’s a place that really offers so much in the way of opportunities to connect with and learn from others.  The FCBA somehow manages to be both a large and a small community.

One of my favorite things about the FCBA is that events, particularly the big ones, have a reunion-like feel.  I always enjoy running into former colleagues, clients, and counsel.  It’s so enjoyable to see who has switched roles since we last met and to learn what everyone has been up to.  Anyone reading this who is not already a member, well, it’s time to join.