In case you haven't noticed, the Rural Cellular Association has been steadily increasing its influence on Capitol Hill and among the U.S. operator community. And now the group has changed its bylaws to accommodate its larger Tier 1 members. The association, which previously was an advocate for carriers with fewer than 10 million customers, has broadened its mission and is now a champion for operators with fewer than 80 million subscribers. That puts it in position to support all but the nation's two largest wireless carriers.
According to RCA President Steve Berry, the change to the group's bylaws means that new members T-Mobile USA (which joined the group earlier this month) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) will be full members of the RCA with voting rights and a board member. Sprint joined the group in April 2011 as an affiliate member.
But the changes to the bylaws don't mean that the Tier 1 operator members have more clout than their smaller counterparts. Berry said that RCA has a one member, one vote rule, so all carriers have the same voting power within the organization. "Sprint and T-Mobile joined RCA for that advocacy role that we are playing for all competitive carriers," Berry said. "It's pretty easy to go before the FCC, the Hill and say we represent all carriers except for AT&T (NYSE:T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ)."
RCA is more than just a lobbyist for the competitive carriers. The group is working hard on some projects that are intended to help smaller operators compete with their larger counterparts. Berry said the group is working on an app store for smaller operators and looking at ways for smaller operators to get more buying power when it comes to handsets and even Wi-Fi offloading. "We are trying to help provide the small carrier with the same look and feel of a larger carrier," Berry said.
Look for more details on these initiatives in the coming weeks. RCA will be hosting its 2012 Competitive Carriers Global Expo show in Orlando, Fla., March 28-30, where members will likely discuss hot-button topics such as 700 MHz interoperability, data roaming, the status of LTE deployments and whether wholesale LTE networks are a viable model. Some of the highlights of the conference include Bob Azzi of Sprint talking about his company's Network Vision network modernization project and Doug Hutcheson, CEO of Leap Wireless, providing an update on his company. I'm also looking forward to hearing from Sanjiv Ahuja, chairman of LightSquared. Ahuja recently resigned at CEO of the troubled wholesale LTE network, but remains the firm's chairman.
I'll be at the show and will be moderating the closing general session on Friday, March 30, featuring RCA board members Jonathan Foxman of MTPCS LLC, James Hyde of Ntelos, Hu Meena of C Spire Wireless and Michael Prior of Atlantic Tele-Network.
Clearly the Rural Cellular Association is much more than rural operator advocate. With the addition of T-Mobile USA and Sprint to its membership roster, the RCA has become an influential group--in Washington, D.C., and the entire wireless industry. --Sue