FCC mandates data roaming; AT&T, Verizon cry foul

The FCC voted to adopt automatic data roaming rules last week, a move smaller operators have been lobbying the commission heavily for. As expected, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) argued that the rules are an unnecessary overreach.

"By forcing carriers that have invested in wireless infrastructure to make those networks available to competitors that avoid this investment, at a price ultimately determined by the FCC, today's order discourages network investment in less profitable areas," Tom Tauke, Verizon Communications' executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications, said in a statement. "That is directly contrary to the interests of rural America and the development of facilities-based competition and potential job creation. Therefore, it is a defeat for both consumers and the innovation fostered by true competition."

Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president of federal regulatory, said in a statement that the record showed "proponents of a roaming mandate were seeking government intervention, not to obtain agreements--which are plentiful--but rather to regulate rates downward."

Other operators such as Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), T-Mobile USA and Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), have argued that excessive charges for data roaming inhibit competition.

"The FCC's decision to require automatic data roaming guarantees that consumers and carriers will have a pathway to 3G and 4G services," Steve Berry, president of the Rural Cellular Association, said in a statement. "Consumers will benefit from a more competitive marketplace, and carriers will be encouraged to invest in advanced networks."

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 that are offering roaming may negotiate terms on an individualized basis, and may condition effectiveness of the roaming deals by making sure the carrier seeking to roam on its network offers service with a generation of technology comparable to the one they want to roam on. Additionally, operators can negotiate reasonable traffic management tools to ensure that their networks are not flooded with data traffic from roaming partners. Companies can seek resolution of disputes through filing complaints or seeking a declaratory FCC ruling on the disagreement.

For more:
- see this FierceWireless article

Related articles:
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FCC report: New wireless spectrum may be worth $120B
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