Smaller carriers press FCC for 'shot-clock' on data roaming negotiations

Representatives from MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS), U.S. Cellular and other small carriers are urging the FCC to adopt a "shot-clock" on data roaming negotiations between carriers. They said that, even with the FCC's new data roaming rules, they are still being stonewalled--presumably by larger wireless carriers--in such negotiations.

In a filing made with the FCC Jan. 27, the carriers "reiterated that general stonewalling and delay issues are still prevalent in data roaming negotiations despite" the FCC's April 2011 rules, which require mobile broadband providers to provide data roaming on "commercially reasonable" terms and conditions.

"Supporters stressed that imposing a shot clock on such negotiations is necessary to provide the proper incentive for potential roaming partners to timely respond to inquiries," the group wrote in its filing. The group included representatives from the Rural Cellular Association, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, Ntelos and the Telecommunications Law Professionals. "Although data roaming negotiations may involve complex issues, the Joint Supporters emphasized that other situations that incorporate shot clocks, such as interconnection and siting negotiations, also have the potential to involve complex issues, and yet, a shot clock still has been successfully implemented in those negotiations."

They also argued that a shot clock on negotiations "would bring potential roaming partners to a point of offer, thereby essentially acting as a commission rule to incent the larger carriers to engage in good faith negotiations in a reasonable time frame."

An FCC spokesman said that the group's request is pending before the commission as a "petition for reconsideration" to the FCC's data roaming rules.

In the FCC's April 2011 data roaming rules, the commission set out several limitations. Carriers that are offering roaming may negotiate terms on an individualized basis, and may condition effectiveness of the roaming deals by making sure the carrier seeking roaming offers service with a generation of technology comparable to the one they want to roam on. Additionally, operators can negotiate reasonable traffic management tools to ensure that their networks are not flooded with data traffic from roaming partners. Companies can seek resolution of disputes through filing complaints or seeking a declaratory FCC ruling on the disagreement.

Larger carriers like Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) pushed against the automatic data roaming rules, arguing they already have dozens of data roaming agreements, that the issue doesn't require federal oversight and that the FCC does not have the authority to enforce the rules anyway. Verizon later sued in federal court to block the rules.

For more:
- see this FCC filing

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