AT&T, Sprint battle over roaming and network investment

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is accusing Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) of taking advantage of expanded roaming rules to stop investing in its network. Sprint disputes the claim, saying that it has actually doubled its network investment in the past year.

In a blog post that started the fracas, Robert Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for federal regulatory, pointed to two local news reports from the The Oklahoman and Kansas City Business Journal that said that starting  March 1 Sprint will be relying more on roaming in rural parts of Oklahoma and Kansas in a bid to cut network costs. "Due to rising network costs, we are making adjustments to the coverage we provide to some areas of Oklahoma and Kansas," Sprint spokeswoman Melinda Tiemeyer told the Kansas City Business Journal.

Quinn wrote this shows Sprint is free-riding on other carriers' network investments. The AT&T executive sharply criticized the FCC's April 2010 decision to abolish 2007 home roaming rules for voice services, and allow smaller carriers to seek roaming agreements in markets where they have spectrum but have not yet built their networks. He also was critical of an April 2011 FCC decision mandating automatic data roaming. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) sued to block the data roaming rules and the lawsuit will likely be heard in federal court this year. 

"As a result of those two FCC Orders, Sprint can now use other folks' networks rather than pony up its own investment dollars," Quinn wrote. "Nice work if you can get it."

Sprint disputed AT&T's claim and said in a statement that it was "disappointing, but not surprising" that AT&T is criticizing the data roaming rules, which AT&T had opposed. Sprint also blasted AT&T's critique of its network investment, and pointed to its multibillion-dollar Network Vision network modernization plan, which is under way. "The facts are that Sprint, as part of its Network Vision program, doubled its 2011 capital investment over 2010 to make tens of thousands of capacity upgrades, resulting in a better wireless experience for its customers," Sprint said in its statement. "With these network investments, Sprint continues to offer consumers a better value than AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile." 

AT&T and Sprint sparred repeatedly over network investment in 2011 and over AT&T's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to acquire T-Mobile USA for $39 billion. 

For more:
- see this The Oklahoman article
- see this Kansas City Business Journal article
- see this AT&T blog post
- see this The Verge article

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