Verizon: We offered MetroPCS LTE roaming agreement

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) said it offered MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) an LTE roaming agreement in February, but that MetroPCS did not respond to the offer. Verizon said MetroPCS is stalling on the issue in hopes that the FCC will step in and mandate better roaming terms.

Verizon made the assertion in its latest filing with the FCC. The filing is part of the agency's ongoing investigation into Verizon's proposed purchase of AWS spectrum from cable companies including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications.

MetroPCS, in one of its previous filings with the FCC on the subject of Verizon's AWS spectrum purchase, implied that Verizon was unwilling to offer a roaming agreement. Verizon said that was incorrect.

"MetroPCS and Verizon Wireless have been engaged in roaming discussions, and they exchanged rate proposals last November," Verizon wrote in its FCC filing. "Verizon Wireless also offered to extend the negotiations, which had previously focused on voice and EV-DO data roaming, to include discussions toward an LTE roaming agreement. In February, Verizon Wireless sent MetroPCS a revised offer and attempted to contact MetroPCS to continue negotiations, but until this week MetroPCS had not responded. It appears that MetroPCS has decided to try to wring conditions out of the regulatory process rather than negotiate commercial arrangements."

A MetroPCS spokesperson provided this statement from the company in response to questions from FierceWireless: "MetroPCS is continually in talks with existing and potential partners with regards to CDMA and LTE roaming agreements."

A roaming agreement between Verizon and MetroPCS would be a first for the industry; so far, no carrier has announced a public roaming deal for LTE (except for those carriers working in Verizon's rural licensing program). Moreover, MetroPCS' LTE network works primarily on its AWS spectrum whereas Verizon's network works mainly on its 700 MHz spectrum. Thus, an LTE roaming agreement between the two companies would be contingent on devices that could support both spectrum bands.

The filing by Verizon is the carrier's latest attempt to convince regulators to approve its AWS spectrum purchases. In December, Verizon agreed to pay $3.6 billion for the nationwide AWS spectrum licenses held by SpectrumCo, a joint venture of cable companies Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Separately, Verizon said it will buy Cox Communication's 20 MHz of AWS spectrum covering 28 million POPs for $315 million. All of the deals include the option of Verizon reselling cable services and cable companies reselling Verizon service. The cable companies can also become MVNOs of Verizon.

A range of companies and public-interest groups are opposed to the deals, arguing they will stifle competition in the marketplace.

Despite the uproar, Verizon is "very, very confident" regulators will approve the plans, according to Verizon CFO Fran Shammo, who spoke this week at an investor conference.

The roaming dust-up between Verizon and MetroPCS isn't the first time major carriers have squabbled over the issue. Indeed, according to past FCC filings, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA couldn't come to an agreement on HSPA roaming. That situation though was ironed out following AT&T's failure to acquire T-Mobile; AT&T agreed to a 3G UMTS roaming agreement with T-Mobile as part of its $6 billion breakup fee.

For more:
- see this Verizon FCC filing (PDF)

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