Leap blasts Verizon's proposal on roaming agreements

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Verizon Wireless said it will support regulations that would give smaller wireless operators more advantages in roaming agreements. The move is the latest Verizon has taken to appease concerns among lawmakers about anticompetitive practices in the wireless industry.

In a letter sent to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam said the carrier would support regulations that would require it to provide roaming to a rival carrier if that carrier has spectrum in an area but does not yet provide service there. Currently, wireless operators are not required to offer roaming to rival carriers in areas where those companies own spectrum but have not yet built out their network.

However, Verizon did have a few conditions. McAdam proposed that the roaming agreements last two years from the date the law or ruling went into effect. The agreement could be extended by one more year if the carrier requesting a roaming agreement had met buildout benchmarks set by a law or FCC rules. Verizon also said that it would support the changes only if it were applied to all carriers on a "competitively neutral basis." The operator said that Congress and the FCC should reject efforts to require in-market roaming on an individual carrier basis.

Last August, the FCC decided not to change roaming rules that allow a carrier to roam in areas where they own spectrum but do not have a network. Smaller carriers such as Leap Wireless expressed concern at the time that Verizon's merger with Alltel would worsen roaming conditions for small carriers by reducing the number of major roaming partners (especially for CDMA carriers such as Leap).

Laurie Itkin, Leap's director of government affairs, said in a written response that Verizon's proposal ignores the facts. "Reciprocal roaming has been the bedrock of the wireless industry since its inception, yet Verizon has decided that it is somehow in the public interest to dictate where consumers can and cannot roam and for how long they can do so," Itkin said. "Verizon itself has relied on roaming agreements for over two decades as it built out its network and acquired competitors, but now has unilaterally decided that its remaining competitors are only entitled to roaming for two or three years." Itkin said she hoped Congress and the FCC would reject Verizon's proposal and adopt roaming rules that benefit consumers. 

In an unrelated action, Verizon last week offered to give carriers with 500,000 or fewer subscribers access to all exclusive devices from its handset partners six months after Verizon launches the phones--another effort to mollify worries over wireless industry competition. The offer was rejected by the Rural Cellular Association as insufficient.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see the Verizon letter

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