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Verizon files suit against FCC's data roaming rules

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Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) filed an appeal to void the FCC's automatic data roaming rules. The rules were approved by the FCC in April despite Verizon and AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) objections. 

Verizon filed its appeal Friday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, arguing that the FCC had exceeded it statutory authority when it issued the order on data roaming, and that the rules are arbitrary and capricious. An FCC spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The rules, which the FCC approved on a party-line 3-2 vote, will require mobile broadband providers to provide data roaming on "commercially reasonable" terms and conditions. However, there are important limitations on the rules. Carriers offering roaming can negotiate terms on an individual basis, and can ensure that those seeking roaming agreements offer comparable network services. Companies can resolve disputes by filing complaints or seeking a declaratory FCC ruling.

In the wake of Verizon's appeal, Steve Berry, the president of the Rural Cellular Association, said he was not surprised Verizon had filed suit. "Verizon has fought competitive policies for a long time," he said in a statement. "They have opposed data roaming, they have opposed interoperability, and they have opposed putting an end to exclusive handset deals."

Berry also said the FCC's rules are legal "in light of the longstanding recognition that the FCC has authority over the public airwaves, and a duty to oversee their use in the public interest," and that the rules allow for case-by-case negotiation of data roaming agreements.

In response to Berry's comments, Verizon Communications spokesman Ed McFadden said that the RCA has to be "confused" since Verizon has over 40 data roaming agreements, most of which are for its EV-DO data service. He also pointed out that Verizon has inked 10 LTE roaming deals with rural carriers. "The reason that we're filing the appeal is we just think that the voluntarily negotiated agreements have been working," he told FierceWireless. "More have been made and there is a better way to do this. We think that the FCC's attempt to regulate rates in this regard is not in their purview."

For more:
- see this The Hill article
- see this RCA release

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Correction, May 18, 2011: This article originally stated that Verizon has seven rural LTE roaming agreements; it currently has 10.