Ina Fried

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FCC’s New Data Roaming Rule Leaves Some Happy, but Verizon and AT&T–Not So Much

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday issued a new order that requires wireless carriers to allow rivals to transmit data on their networks at prices determined by the commission.

While the new rules were sought by Sprint, T-Mobile and many smaller carriers, the two largest U.S. carriers have opposed the new regulation.

Verizon Wireless immediately lashed out at the new rule, saying it penalizes carriers that make large investments in their network. Verizon also noted that it has 40 data roaming agreements with various competitors.

“Today’s action represents a new level of unwarranted government intervention in the wireless marketplace,” Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke said in a statement. “By forcing carriers that have invested in wireless infrastructure to make those networks available to competitors that avoid this investment, at a price ultimately determined by the FCC, today’s order discourages network investment in less profitable areas.”

Verizon contends the move will hurt, rather than help, those in smaller and rural areas by discouraging development.

“We are also concerned that the FCC is taking this action even though it does not have the statutory authority to do so. Consumers benefit from the deployment of wireless networks that have more capacity to offer new services, and Verizon is committed to working with policymakers to accomplish that goal.”

AT&T also expressed concern about the new rule.

“Roaming agreements for both voice and data are in place throughout the country, and were reached through normal commercial negotiations,” AT&T Senior Vice President Bob Quinn said in a statement. “While we will thoroughly review today’s order, we continue to believe that a data roaming mandate is unwarranted and will discourage investment and build out of broadband facilities for both those seeking regulated roaming rates and those forced to wholesale facilities at those rates.”

Sprint, meanwhile, praised the new rules.

“Sprint applauds the FCC’s order, which will ensure that consumers traveling in the U.S. have seamless access to their e-mail and the Internet and is critical to the preservation of a competitive wireless industry,” Senior Vice President Vonya B. McCann said in a statement. “Reasonable access to data roaming services is essential to the expansion of mobile broadband service, will promote investment in new network deployment, and, in turn, spur jobs and economic growth.”

Sprint also took the opportunity to reiterate its opposition to AT&T’s plan to buy T-Mobile.

“With AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile and the corresponding threat it poses to continued wireless competition, it is absolutely critical that the FCC take steps to promote competition and level the playing field.”

T-Mobile had also called for data roaming rules, a position that it repeated late last year after it failed to reach a deal with AT&T on roaming rates. The company did not immediately have a comment on Thursday regarding the new rules.