Data roaming battle heats up ahead of FCC's April meeting

The fight between smaller operators and larger carriers, namely Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), over whether the FCC should mandate data roaming is nearing a fevered pitch, with proponents arguing that the measure could die if the FCC does not address the issue during its April meeting.

"If we don't get it done in April, then it's probably dead," one anonymous FCC aide told Politico.

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 and AT&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.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee's communications subcommittee, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn.) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski urging him to act on the data roaming mandate. The lawmakers said the rules are critically needed in rural areas where "many consumers suffer from a lack of adequate wireless coverage."

"By establishing clear rules on data roaming, the FCC can help provide certainty to both large and small wireless providers," the senators wrote. The letter comes a week after smaller carriers, including Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S), T-Mobile USA and Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), called on the FCC to require data roaming agreements. The issue likely will become increasingly important in the coming years as mobile data grows and voice services move onto data networks. Already, Verizon Wireless is testing Voice over LTE technology.

However, 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. 

For more:
- see this Politico article
- see this National Journal article

Related Articles:
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