US regulators looking at changing roaming rules

The head of the US Federal Communications Commission has put on hold a plan to revise the rules governing the right of small wireless phone carriers to 'roam' on the networks of larger rivals, a Reuters report said.

At issue is whether carriers should be allowed to roam in areas where they own airwaves, but have not built networks, the Reuters report added.

The report said FCC chairman Kevin Martin had proposed guaranteeing that carriers who owned unused spectrum could continue roaming for four years before they lost roaming rights.

But he withdrew the proposal before a meeting of the FCC's five commissioners on Friday because they had not reached an agreement on the issue.

'At this point, I'm not sure I see a consensus for how the commission ends up addressing it,' Martin said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

The move also comes after small carriers such as Leap Wireless International asked the FCC to ban Verizon Wireless' plan to buy Alltel unless rules are put in place to make sure consumers are not left without roaming in some areas.

Verizon, which hopes to close the Alltel deal by year-end, declined comment beyond documents it filed recently with the FCC promising to maintain Alltel's roaming agreements, the report said.

The FCC review of the rules stems from an order it adopted last year that reaffirmed the rights of smaller carriers to roam on the networks of bigger wireless companies such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Martin said the rules were designed to encourage companies to make use of the airwaves they own, rather than just sitting on them and roaming on the networks of other companies.