The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules mandating that wireless operators offer data roaming on what it calls commercially reasonable terms and conditions along a 3:2 party-line vote, with Republicans Robert McDowell and Meredith Atwell Baker dissenting from the order.
Under the new regulations, wireless operators must work to reach “commercially reasonable” terms for data roaming agreements. During a press conference following the event, FCC staff said the agency felt the need to address the issue because even though some data roaming deals have been completed recently, they were done so because of the overhang of the FCC’s probe into the matter, and that if the commission did not adopt an order, the agreements would stop coming.
The regulations do not address terms or timelines of agreements.
Bob Quinn, AT&T’s chief privacy officer and senior VP of federal regulatory, likely would disagree, noting in a statement following the vote that roaming agreements for voice and data are in place and were reached through normal negotiations. “The evidence presented in this proceeding demonstrated conclusively that proponents of a roaming mandate were seeking government intervention, not to obtain agreements – which are plentiful – but rather to regulate rates downward. While we will thoroughly review today’s order, we continue to believe that a data roaming mandate is unwarranted and will discourage investment and buildout of broadband facilities for both those seeking regulated roaming rates and those forced to wholesale facilities at those rates.”
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski commented at the FCC meeting today that only Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. filed comments against mandated data roaming agreements. In recent months, smaller operators have been aiming to draw attention to the issue. At a March Media event, companies involved included Sprint Nextel Corp., T-Mobile USA Inc., MetroPCS Communications Inc. and Leap Wireless International Inc., as well as the Rural Cellular Association, Rural Telecommunications Group and the Computer & Communications Industry Association.
“We are very pleased with the FCC s decision, which certainly will be viewed as historically significant,” said RCA President and CEO Steven K. Berry. “The FCC s decision to require automatic data roaming guarantees that consumers and carriers will have a pathway to 3G and 4G services. Consumers will benefit from a more competitive marketplace, and carriers will be encouraged to invest in advanced networks.”
Cricket CEO Doug Hutcheson said the ruling is a win for consumers, who shouldn’t have to worry about whether a particular application will work depending on where they are in the United States.
Whether the commission has the authority to mandate data roaming was at issue during the FCC meeting, with Atwell Baker saying the agency does not.
Pole attachment rule changes
In other news, the commission also addressed pole attachment rules, in essence telling utility companies they must not discriminate in what type of company attaches to a pole. In an FCC blog, Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau, explained the agency’s thinking. “Under current rules, while a cable company may pay $7 a foot per year to attach its wire to a pole, a telephone company may pay $20 or more. It might seem odd in this world of converging communications, where your cable company may sell phone service and your phone provider sells pay TV service. So we reduced the disparity in rates between different types of companies for the same attachments. It will still fairly compensate utilities. But now, for example, cable companies won’t jeopardize their low rate by providing new telecommunications services, and phone companies will find it cheaper to expand and improve broadband networks.”