FCC's Genachowski defends data roaming, harps on spectrum crunch

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ORLANDO, Fla.--FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski offered a vigorous defense of an FCC proposal to institute mandatory data roaming rules, saying that the core of the issue was beyond dispute. The top telecom regulator also declined to comment on AT&T's (NYSE:T) proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA. 

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski In the opening keynote of the CTIA Wireless 2011 trade show, Genachowski said that the data roaming proposal, which the commission will vote on at its next meeting April 7, simply made sense as an outgrowth of voice roaming rules.

"Voice roaming has promoted competition and has been an important spur to the dramatic uptake in mobile devices and investment in mobile networks," Genachowski said. "Consumers everywhere want the ability to roam anywhere, and they want it for all of their basic mobile services, whether it's a voice call, an online check of out-of-town scores, or access to web job postings or health information. Many mobile providers need roaming arrangements to be competitive." 

He said that the FCC is still debating the details of a data-roaming framework, but also said "the core proposition is beyond dispute: healthy competition produces greater innovation and investment, lower prices, and better service."

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T have strongly petitioned against the automatic data roaming proposal since it was floated last year. Smaller carriers, including Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), T-Mobile and Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), are in favor of it.

The issue has become more complicated in the wake of AT&T's announcement of the T-Mobile deal, since T-Mobile and AT&T will share each other's networks if the merger closes. 

Genachowski also touched on some wireless industry regulatory hot spots, including collocation on cell sites, which he said is being explored by the FCC's Technology Advisory Committee, led by former CTIA CEO Tom Wheeler.

"Initial reports suggest that in some places the obstacles are greater than they should be to adding or replacing an antenna on an existing tower," he said. "If so, that's something we would work to address. Overly burdensome rules, regulations and processes can slow down deployment and raise costs.  They can slow down hiring and investment." He said that it has been estimated that removing red tape in this area and speeding up the cell site approval process could unleash $11.5 billion in infrastructure investment over the next two years. 

The FCC chief also brought up a constant refrain: the looming spectrum crunch.  He called voluntary incentive auctions for TV broadcast spectrum the "right idea at the right time," and said the cost of inaction will hurt consumers and the broader economy. Genachowski also said various parties, include the CTIA and the White House Office of Management and Budget, have estimated that the revenue potential of the auctions could be around $30 billion.

"But the cost of inaction is not just delayed or foregone auction revenue," Genachowski said. "The economic benefits of freeing up spectrum vastly exceed even that $30 billion figure, and so, the costs of inaction exceed that amount as well."

For more:
- see this transcript of Genachowski's remarks

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