FCC set to vote on mobile data roaming mandate

The FCC is expected to vote today on whether to mandate mobile data roaming.

The FCC voted in April 2010 to explore whether it could and should mandate data roaming, a vote made in conjunction with the agency's move to abolish home roaming rules for voice services. Since then, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T) have argued that they already have dozens of data roaming agreements and that the issue doesn't require federal oversight, while smaller carriers have argued that excessive charges for data roaming are inhibiting competition.

Mandated data roaming, however, has the backing of FCC Chairman Julius Genechowski; but it's unclear whether the FCC will act. The FCC mandated voice roaming rules since voice is a common-carrier service, but mobile data can be considered an information service and therefore may not fall under the agency's purview. 

Smaller operators such as Sprint (NYSE:S) and Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) held a news conference last week to call on the FCC to include a proposed rule mandating data roaming on its April agenda.

Carri Bennet, general counsel with the Rural Telecommunications Group, said the mandate is needed to spur deployments of rural mobile broadband networks. "RTG's members are willing to move forward with such deployments, provided they can assure their rural consumers that their devices will be able to access data networks outside of their rural areas on fair and equitable terms," Bennet said in a statement.

Smaller operator accuse AT&T and Verizon of having a duopoly over the market given the fact that they provide nationwide service and don't need smaller players for roaming.

"The current FCC roaming regulatory regime... is still rooted in the legacy circuit switched voice environment," Sprint Vice President of Government Affairs Charles McKee said in a filing last week with the FCC. "If the commission fails to update its roaming policy and adopt a data roaming obligation that reflects this fundamental shift in the mobile marketplace, its current framework may not only become irrelevant, but may actually impede IP broadband deployment and innovation."

If the FCC won't move forward, Bennet said smaller operator may need to lobby lawmakers to move forward, or even take the issue to the Department of Justice to look at whether Verizon and AT&T are acting anti-competitively.

For more:
- see this Cnet article

Related articles:
Data roaming battle heats up ahead of FCC's April meeting
Smaller operators call on FCC to act on data roaming mandate
T-Mobile, AT&T deadlock on 3G data roaming deal
Mosaic: AT&T won't let us roam onto 3G network
Verizon, AT&T detail data roaming agreements
AT&T, T-Mobile bicker over possible 3G data roaming agreement
Roaming - One year at the FCC

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