By Samuel T. Clover ’91
Ever question a charge under the “adjustments” section of your cell phone bill, or worried about your privacy when using a public wireless hot spot?
These and countless other issues fall under the purview of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) of the Federal Communications Commission, and as special counsel to the bureau chief, D’Wana Terry ’87 plays a key role in advising about issues ranging from cyber security to green initiatives.
In this work Terry draws on more than 16 years of service with the FCC, including 13 with the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and almost 4 with the CGB. You could say she’s been wired ever since graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law, just three years after receiving a bachelor’s degree with a major in international affairs and mathematics from Lafayette. Her first job after law school was with a private firm specializing in mass media regulatory practice.
“As special counsel, I serve as an adviser to the chief of the bureau in the creation of regulatory policy from the perspective of the Federal Communications Commission,” Terry says. “It’s more administrative law than being involved in court or drafting legislation. We don’t draft legislation, but we do work on proceedings that end up being federal regulations.”
In her first role at the CGB, which lasted from 2007 to 2009, Terry worked in the consumer complaints area, specifically with regard to telecommunications issues. There she monitored trends and ensured that the FCC was responding appropriately.
And the number-one consumer complaint?
“In these economic times, people pay a lot of attention to their bills,” she says, “whether it’s a billing discrepancy or wanting to understand particular portions, or why they are being billed for a particular line item—or, ‘I really don’t want this, I never ordered this, how can I get this off my bill, can you give me credit?’”
Though the communications industry has evolved radically over the last 16 years—who would have thought that we’d be watching movies on a cell phone?—Terry says the biggest challenge of her career has been to balance professional responsibilities with personal fulfillment.
“It’s trying to carve out those opportunities within whatever job you have where you can still at the end of the day say, ‘I like my job, and I’ve contributed something back to society and to the people that I work with, and I’ve become a better person because I’ve either stretched a muscle that I hadn’t before or I learned to do something I didn’t know I could do.’”
One thing she learned to do all too well throughout her career is maintain her integrity to both family and employer as several close relatives struggled with illness. Her father died two weeks before her law school graduation, and her mother, a breast cancer survivor, succumbed to lung cancer seven years later—the same year she was married. In 2004, her husband was diagnosed with a rare form of intestinal cancer, and he died in 2006, leaving Terry to raise her two children, Rosalynne, now 21, and Brian, now 9, alone.
“Everybody deals with tragedies, but it’s these challenges that come up that affect how you live your life and what choices you make,” she says. “You’re constantly forced to realize that life is precious, and time is not promised to anyone, so you have to make your decisions soberly and be committed to those things to which you are passionate about.”
One passion that helped her through her husband’s illness was crocheting, a skill she learned during his treatment that has now turned into a business, Ms. D’s Designs. She has no website offering her products yet, but with her experience in communications, no doubt she’ll have one up and running soon.