RCA steps up as advocate for small carriers

In the wake of Cellular South's resignation from wireless trade group CTIA, Rural Cellular Association President Steve Berry said his organization is well suited to be an advocate on policy issues that relate to small and rural wireless carriers. RCA members consist of regional carriers with fewer than 10 million subscribers.

Earlier this week Cellular South decided to leave the CTIA, arguing the trade group's activities favor its largest members, namely AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless. The small regional carrier, which operates mainly in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, said the CTIA favors its Tier 1 members on issues ranging from handset exclusivity to data roaming.

Berry wouldn't say whether he thought other small operators may follow Cellular South's lead and resign from the CTIA. Instead, he said the RCA is focused on issues that are the "lifeblood" of the rural carrier but may not be as high a priority for larger operators. Specifically, those issues are data roaming, handset exclusivity and readying the 700 MHz spectrum for 4G deployment. And Berry said RCA is ready to become a bigger advocate for the small operator by working more closely with regulators and legislators in Washington, D.C. To that end, the group now has an office in Washington, where Berry will be working alongside the rest of his team.

"We are committed to increasing our advocacy role and footprint in Washington, D.C.," Berry said.

However, many of RCA's members also are CTIA members. In fact, the president of the RCA board, Slayton Stewart, also is a member of the CTIA board. Stewart is CEO of Carolina West Wireless.

But RCA's Berry sees a growing division between the Tier 1 carriers and the small regional carriers, particularly as the number of Tier 2 carriers dwindles due to consolidation. In the past, operators like Alltel, Dobson Cellular and others could voice the concerns of the rural carrier and be heard. "The smaller and regional members probably feel like their issues are so important and critical that they need to ensure that they have a vocal position in D.C. They might not get that otherwise," Berry said.

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