On November 15, 2021, President Joe Biden signed H.R. 3684 into law. The bill, more commonly known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, allocates $65 billion to boost broadband Internet signals, bring access to rural areas, and make service more affordable for qualifying lower-income households.
Katharine “Kaiti” Saunders celebrated the news. As vice president and deputy general counsel of network regulatory strategy at Verizon, she knows just how critical high-speed access is. “Broadband networks let us work, attend school, and receive medical care,” she says. “As a society, it’s critical that we finally have the technology and the will to ensure that kids don’t have to sit in the McDonald’s parking lot to get broadband so they can do their homework.”
Saunders came to the communications giant in 2009 after logging nearly a decade as a trial lawyer at big law firms where she represented commercial clients in intellectual property disputes and other matters. In her current role, she leads a team that develops and implements Verizon’s overall regulatory strategy regarding its nationwide broadband plan. That plan includes advanced 5G networks and deployment of One Fiber bundled Internet, telephone, and television services.
Verizon, Saunders, and her colleagues were watching H.R. 3684 and the underlying issues closely. In fact, before the bill was even proposed, Saunders cowrote a related academic white paper published on her company’s website. The document, entitled “Accelerating America,” lays out the need to close the nation’s digital divide. “Americans who don’t have the education or tools necessary to function online are at a disadvantage,” the document says; its authors also outline a bold vision for how the federal government should proceed.
With these issues coming to the forefront, Saunders started building a new network regulatory strategy team within Verizon. The group will determine how the company will participate in broadband deployment funding programs at both federal and state levels. They will also work on legal, regulatory, and compliance matters regarding intelligent edge, network-as-a-service, 5G, and One Fiber.
In forming the team, Saunders says she’s looking to maintain the authentic culture she’s experienced since her arrival at Verizon in 2009. “This is an inclusive and welcoming place full of people who lead with empathy,” she explains. Saunders, who knows such a strong culture isn’t always common at companies that approach Verizon’s size, is working to build a team where “everyone can be part of the conversation and make real contributions that help the company move forward.”
Emerging technologies are increasing opportunities, but they can also increase inequities for people who lack internet access and other resources. Saunders’ role at Verizon helps her advocate for the underserved and underrepresented—and she’s also doing that out in the community. “Our general counsel, Craig Silliman, set the tone for this and encouraged everyone in our department to find a way to use our skills and give back,” Saunders says. “Now it’s just a part of who we are.”
It’s a challenge Saunders takes seriously. She volunteers with many organizations and serves on several nonprofit boards, including that of the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company, a group that presents shows from new and diverse voices to spark dialogue and create change from its seat in the Washington, DC, area. She’s also giving her time and skills as the board finance chair for the AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation, an organization working to close the achievement gap before children enter kindergarten. Recently, Saunders was appointed as a guardian ad litem and is working with the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project to represent at-risk children, domestic violence victims, and other vulnerable individuals in court proceedings and custody cases.
Saunders graduated from the University of Michigan and earned a political science degree from Johns Hopkins University, where she played varsity soccer. In 2019, she helped launch the SportsBra Project, a nonprofit working to remove barriers to participation in sport.
Whether working to close the digital divide or to advocate for women, children, education, and the arts, Saunders says she is happy to have found a way to apply her skills for the good of others. “I can wake up every day thankful to know that I get work on things that really matter,” she says. “And that’s an amazing gift.”
“Kaiti is not only a brilliant attorney, but also deeply committed to mentoring the next generation of lawyers. It is a privilege to work with her.”
–Scott Angstreich, Partner