Malcolm Webb
Firm:
Office:
20 Seaview Road
1050
City:
Auckland
Country:
New Zealand
Tel:
+64 21 650 050

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Data

Malcolm Webb is principal of M Webb Ltd, a specialist telecoms and digital focused law firm that he founded in 2015.From 2004 until 2015, he was the founder and partner of Webb Henderson and its predecessor firm. Between 1992 and 2014, he was an associate, and then partner, at Bell Gully in New Zealand.From 1988 to 1992, he was an associate at Clifford Chance in London.

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.

I’ve been a private practice lawyer for almost all of my legal career. I’ve worked for a large global law firm and a big domestic firm and formed small specialist firms in several countries. The first half of my career was in banking and finance, but I then switched to concentrate on the telecoms sector and more recently the digital sector. I span corporate and commercial transactional work, through to policy and regulatory advice. I have had an international practice for quite some time, advising corporate and government clients in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East, Africa and Latin America regions.

HOW HAS THE MARKET CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST STARTED PRACTISING?

The market for external legal advisers in the sectors I concentrate on has become increasingly sophisticated, with super-specialist firms (such as ourselves), larger firms with a strong and diversified industry concentration and big, corporate-focused firms that are retained for major transactions. This suggests it is a relatively mature legal services market for clients and service providers. In this mix, clients find real value in the insights and capabilities of specialist firms, giving us the ability to build enduring successful practices alongside these larger competitors.

HOW HAS YOUR PRACTICE RESPONDED TO THE INCREASING DEMAND FOR NEW TECHNOLOGY SUCH AS 4G AND 5G?

The telecoms sector is driven by substantial and rapid cycles of technology investment, bringing with it new business models, and so new commercial arrangements, and new regulatory issues. We particularly concentrate on fibre and high-speed mobile network investment in developed and emerging markets. Because things are moving so quickly, we can leverage our experience in these evolving areas across a range of jurisdictions.

IS THE AMOUNT OF GOVERNMENT REGULATION IN THE SPACE A HELP OR A HINDRANCE FOR HEALTHY COMPETITION IN THE MARKET?

In the telecoms sector, the key regulatory issues involve the balancing of investment (which is a never-ending requirement for fixed and mobile networks) and competition. With government policy around the world emphasising increasing broadband penetration, the trick is to create an enabling environment for the investment that is required, while at the same time facilitating competition. Striking the right balance is a challenge for policy makers, but successful regulatory models are emerging, including from our home markets in the Asia-Pacific.

HOW CAN POLICY BEST FACILITATE AI GROWTH WHILE ALSO PROVIDING SUFFICIENT REGULATION?

The key to the development of AI is access to sufficient high-quality data to effectively train the algorithms used in

AI systems. Some of that data is personal data, so privacy law is central to data access for AI purposes. Some is proprietary data, which may raise issues of whether control of data is a source of market power. Some is public data, so open data initiatives by governments are important.

There is a layer of ethical and legal issues regarding AI, the contours of which are just beginning to emerge. Ethical issues such as bias and transparency, and legal issues such as liability for autonomous systems, are likely to require regulatory response of some sort. But it is very early days and there is a real danger of pre-emptive or misguided regulation, which can stifle innovation in AI and related fields such as robotics.

There is a case for sandbox-style regulatory experimentation, as we have seen in fields such as fintech, being used in the AI and robotics contexts.

WHAT EFFECT WILL INCREASING LEVELS OF POLITICAL DISCUSSION SURROUNDING THE IMPORTANCE OF DATA PRIVACY HAVE ON THE FIELD, IN YOUR OPINION?

This is a time of heightened sensitivity and awareness of privacy issues, but also a time when technology can enhance people’s lives through insights gained from new and unexpected uses of personal data. 

I advocate approaches that significantly raise the general public awareness and understanding of how personal data is and can be used. But there should also be increased awareness and understanding of the public benefits that arise from big data and AI applications, where these may require the use, appropriately protected, of personal data.

HOW DO YOU SEE THE MARKET DEVELOPING OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

The enormous growth experienced by high-technology businesses has spurred interest in the legal market for servicing these clients. As we have seen with fintech, these technology businesses are moving into conventional, and sometimes heavily regulated, industrial sectors. More established businesses are altering their business models to respond to competition from technology companies. All of this creates opportunities for lawyers, with fast-growing or changing clients, but also new legal and regulatory issues needing to be addressed.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE LOOKING TO START THEIR CAREER IN DATA LAW?

Although I think it’s not about the technology, it’s about the law, I do think young lawyers need to be immersed in and conversant with the new technologies and anticipate the legal issues that arise. To be an effective legal adviser to technology-driven clients, you need to be familiar with the technological foundations of their business. But first and foremost, you are a lawyer and not a technologist!

Biographies:

Who's Who Legal Data: Information Technology

Malcolm is a commercial and regulatory lawyer, focusing on telecommunications, technology and digital sectors. He advises corporates, regulators and governments around the world on commercial transactions and regulatory issues.

His technology commercial work includes advising on JV’s, outsourcing, licensing, alliancing and partnering arrangements, supply contracts and tender processes.

His telecoms commercial work mainly involves infrastructure-related deals, including co-investment in new broadband networks, infrastructure sharing, public-private partnerships and international connectivity. 

WWL says: Malcolm Webb is recognised as a standout figure in the IT space, and is known for his particular expertise in broadband investment matters.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Data which can be purchased from our Shop.

Who's Who Legal Data: Telecoms & Media

Malcolm is a commercial and regulatory lawyer, focusing on the telecommunications sector. He advises operators, regulators and governments around the world on commercial transactions and regulatory issues.

His commercial work mainly involves infrastructure-related deals, in fixed and mobile. Examples include co-investment in new broadband networks, infrastructure sharing, public-private partnerships and international connectivity. 

His regulatory work mainly involves advising on broadband investment policies, wholesale access regulation, industry restructuring and separation as well as digital policy.

WWL says: Malcolm Webb enjoys a strong international reputation for his top-tier telecoms practice which encompasses complex regulatory matters and transactions.

This biography is an extract from Who's Who Legal: Data which can be purchased from our Shop.

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