Smaller operators call on FCC to act on data roaming mandate

Smaller wireless operators have been waiting on the FCC for 18 months to rule on whether data roaming should be included in the current mandatory wireless roaming regulations that only include voice services at this point. As such, these operators have stepped up their quest by calling on the commission to act on their request, which they say is required to ensure their subscribers can access data networks outside of their coverage areas at fair rates and terms.

Smaller operators such as Sprint (NYSE:S), T-Mobile and Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) held a news conference 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 Mobility (NYSE:T) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) 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.

In a filing last week with the FCC, Verizon argued that "market forces continue to work to ensure that carriers that want data roaming agreements, including data roaming agreements for broadband services, are able to enter into such agreements."

For more:
- see this National Journal article

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