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The American Arbitration Association (“AAA”), at the request of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) established a special arbitration program for the wireless industry and its customers.  The program has its own set of Rules and its own Panel of arbitrators.  This program is designed to address any dispute relating to the provision of cellular and broadband PCS services although any arbitration agreement can elect to employ the rules.  Any AAA arbitration arising within the wireless industry is handled under this program by default, unless other rules are stipulated by contract.

The Wireless Industry Arbitration rules are essentially the same as those for ordinary commercial disputes.  There are three tracks.  The Regular Track is for cases involving claims between $75,000 and $500,000 dollars.  Smaller claims are handled on using the Expedited Procedure and larger claims are handled on the Large/Complex Case Track.

In the Expedited Procedure, the AAA appoints a single arbitrator.  There is a presumption that the matter will be “tried” on the papers and there is a 45-day “time standard” for case completion.  In the Regular Track, there is presumptively one arbitrator and any discovery is at the discretion of the arbitrator.  Cases on the Large/Complex Track, are subject to mandatory pre-arbitration mediation and/or early neutral evaluation according to AAA.  Also, there is a presumption that there will be three arbitrators and the presumption that there will be discovery.  Finally, the parties can agree to an appellate type review of the initial award.  The Large/Complex case rules can be applied to claims that are smaller than $500,000 or that have no undetermined or nonmonetary claims at the request of any party.

As part of the program, AAA maintains a special panel of arbitrators known as the Telecommunications Panel.  The Telecommunications Panel includes many individuals who are engaged directly in the telecommunications industry.  According to AAA, attorney members of the Panel typically devote at least half of their practice to telecommunications matters.

Of course, any of the Rules can be altered by contract between the parties.

There is a debate as to whether fact finders, such as the AAA arbitrators, do a better job when they have expertise in the field in which the dispute arises.  Some people believe that such expertise provides a better understanding and a fairer decision.   Others believe that such expertise can bring with it biases and prejudices relating to industry practices, industry technology or industry business models that can influence the ultimate decision.

In assessing whether industry expertise is likely to be beneficial to reaching a fair and prompt resolution of a dispute, it is important to remember that most of the disputes that can arise relate to the contract between the disputing parties.  The Commercial Arbitration Panel members are experienced in resolving such disputes and experience with the wireless industry may not be an advantage unless the issues relate to the fine points of service structure or delivery.

If you believe that an arbitrator special expertise in the wireless industry will be advantageous, you should specify in your contracts that any dispute will be resolved by arbitration by the American Arbitration Association pursuant to the Wireless Industry Arbitration Rules.  Alternative, if agreement can be reached during the contracting process, you can identify a specific individual to act as arbitrator in the contract.