A group of wireless firms sent a letter Friday to Senate Commerce Chairman John (Jay) Rockefeller arguing on behalf of an FCC proposal that would force national wireless carriers to provide roaming services for customers of regional service providers.
Smaller wireless carriers are concerned that their ability to offer national data plans could be undermined by the two largest wireless providers, AT&T and Verizon, who have a commercial incentive not to allow competitors to roam on their networks or charge unreasonably high prices. AT&T and Verizon dismiss claims that regulations are needed to guard against their competitors' concerns, saying the market is functioning perfectly without government intervention.
Wireless providers Clearwire, Sprint, T-Mobile and others wrote Rockefeller, D-W.Va., seeking his support for the FCC plan. The commission launched a notice of proposed rulemaking on the matter last spring, but it has yet to take further steps. Without the right to data roaming, the firms said, regional carriers' ability to keep investing in building out broadband infrastructure will be threatened. They argue that data roaming also is important to attracting the customers needed to maintain current networks or invest in greater broadband coverage, the letter added.
"If the FCC does not act promptly and mandate automatic data roaming, consumers suffer, jobs will be lost, and the deployment of mobile broadband will be delayed," Rural Cellular Association President Steven Berry said in a statement.
Last month, former House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., sent a letter to the FCC challenging the commission's authority to implement the data roaming proposal. "Further consultation with the Congress on this and other matters is desperately needed to avoid a glorious mess of litigation," he wrote.
When asked about the FCC's authority on this issue and where it stands, a FCC spokeswoman said "It's an open proceeding, we continue to evaluate the record."
The commission's proposal is "a way for us to have fair and reasonable data roaming rates," Crystal Davis, a Sprint spokeswoman said. "It's good for consumers and it's a way to achieve the national broadband plan."
In a recent document filed with the FCC, AT&T argued that "there is no evidentiary basis for the imposition" of data roaming regulations. The company maintains that industry wide, wireless providers of all sizes "are successfully negotiating appropriate data roaming arrangements on a private carriage basis."