As a co-founder of NYSWA, Christopher Fisher has been a member and a director of the board since the organization’s inception in 2007. He served as Executive Officer from 2007 to 2012, as President from 2012 to 2018 and as State and Local Government Affairs Advisor from 2018 to present. To say Christopher has had a monumental impact on the NYSWA – and indeed the wireless infrastructure in New York – would be a gross understatement.
The Q&A below is a fascinating look at how Christopher has helped to facilitate and improve public safety and wireless connectivity for millions while he reflects on the tremendous impacts the industry and the NYSWA have had on his career. Plus, don’t skip over the sage advice from Christopher’s Grandpa Gordie that can guide us all in business and life.
Why wireless? What brought you to the industry?
Fresh out of law school, I started working as outside counsel for Cellular One and helped Craig McCaw achieve his pioneering vision for cellular networks within the New York MTA. The cross-section of technology and law was particularly fascinating; It piqued my interest in the business and supporting the commercial transactions and regulatory entitlements needed to build out 1G and 2G networks. In the 30 years since then I’ve had the privilege of representing carriers and infrastructure companies that contribute $825 billion to the U.S. GDP annually and have personally facilitated thousands of wireless infrastructure sites that provide mobility, public safety, and internet access to millions of people in the Northeast.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for our industry over the next few years?
Connecting all New Yorkers. On the path from 1G to 5G, we’ve learned that last-mile wireless connectivity, including fixed wireless deployments, can be a cost-effective means to provide broadband to those in critical need of access. Federal and state BEAD and 5G Funding present a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect all New Yorkers, and wireless is a critical component of that broadband policy playbook. By 2030, we will reflect on how wireless has connected New Yorkers across the state, bridged the digital divide, and supported our innovation economy.
In your role as a NYSWA board member, what are you most looking forward to contributing this year?
Advancing solutions for some of New York’s historic regulatory barriers to the deployment of wireless infrastructure. While speaking at the City & State’s Broadband for All Conference earlier this year, I emphasized the importance of coupling State funding opportunities with a State plan to streamline the regulatory approval processes for broadband deployments. The wireless industry needs greater certainty on the timelines and costs for fiber and wireless projects in New York to commit the long-term capital needed to advance the State’s plan. Whether it is towers in the Adirondacks, small cells in the suburbs, or EFRs all over, it benefits New Yorkers to avoid having taxpayer and private-sector funds used to overcome bureaucratic hurdles rooted in strong municipal home-rule laws.
How has your involvement with NYSWA impacted your career? What would you share with others on how getting involved can affect their success?
NYSWA has had a tremendous positive impact on me professionally. I’ve had the unique opportunity to lead, educate and advocate for our industry in a time of extraordinary growth. A few of the highlights include publishing a first-ever Wireless Economic Impact Report for State officials, introducing FCC Chairman Pai at our Wireless Forum in NYC, and serving as a gubernatorial appointee on New York State’s Cellular Taskforce. None of these opportunities would have been possible without my service on NYSWA’s Board. Perhaps most important are all the friendships with fellow NYSWA members, government officials, and industry leaders that have profoundly shaped who I am as a professional. Joining NYSWA will undoubtedly expand your knowledge, connections, and skill sets while simultaneously advancing our mission to wirelessly connect all New Yorkers.
As our industry looks to the next generation of leaders, what would you share with someone starting their careers in wireless?
We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Marty Cooper’s first cell phone call from a sidewalk on 6th Avenue in NYC. Since then, each generation of wireless leaders has added to an incredibly transformative technology and advanced it for the public good. As we move into a new era of AI and other technical innovations, it is incumbent on our next generation to harness advancements for all and support enhanced access to wireless services through programs such as ACP and the USF. NYSWA cultivates, with enthusiasm, the kind of intellectual curiosity and vision needed to advance the wireless industry and is a fantastic place for emerging leaders to hone their skills, grow, and serve the community beyond a job alone.
What is your passion? What gets you out of bed every morning, excited to start the day ahead of you?
Knowing that I can make a real difference in the lives of individuals through the transformative power of wireless technology and broadband connectivity. Access to jobs, telemedicine, secure banking, and E911 location-based services are just a few of the benefits mobile untaps, particularly for the over 70% of Americans that rely on a mobile device as their only means of connectivity. While attorneys do not always get to say they make a difference in people’s daily lives, I can. Getting towers in the air and small cells on poles to serve the public is just part of my passion for wireless infrastructure. In recent years, pro bono work to advance digital navigation, literacy, and device ownership in historically underserved communities has been a particularly invigorating advancement in my career and fuels my enthusiasm every day.
What is something that most people are surprised to learn about you?
That I trade my business suit for board shorts and wakesurfing whenever I can.
What is the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received?
The best professional advice I ever received was from my Grandpa Gordie while working in his butcher shop in Rochester, New York, as a kid. A homeless woman would come into the store once a week and ask for one “red hot” (if you’re from upstate you know). Gordie told me to go up to the counter, take her order, and pull five links, place them in a bag, fold the opening over neatly, ask for her quarter, smile, and say thank you! When I asked why he wanted me to give her four dogs for “free,” he told me it was not charity, but compassion. Gordie said that everyone, no matter their circumstances, deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. That lesson in business has stayed with me ever since.