Appeals Court Upholds FCC’s Data-Roaming Rule
A federal Appeals Court on Tuesday rejected Verizon Wireless’s bid to toss out an order from the Federal Communications Commission that aimed to ensure wireless carriers’ customers can access the Internet and text anywhere in the country.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected Verizon’s bid to overturn the FCC’s data-roaming rule, which was approved last year by the agency on a party-line vote. The order requires Verizon and other wireless carriers to offer access to their networks to competitors at reasonable rates and terms when those operators’ customers leave their service area and want to text or to access the Internet.
Verizon argued that the FCC did not have authority to implement the data-roaming order and that the order illegally treats wireless operators as common carriers.
“Title III of the Communications Act of 1934 plainly empowers the commission to promulgate the data-roaming rule,” the court said in its decision. “And although the rule bears some marks of common carriage, we defer to the commission’s determination that the rule imposes no common carrier obligations on mobile-Internet providers.”
Data roaming is a key priority for smaller carriers, many of whom don’t operate national networks like Verizon but want to be able to offer their customers data services no matter where they travel. “All but two major national carriers—Verizon and AT&T—favored a data-roaming rule in some form,” the Appeals Court noted in its decision.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said that the court’s decision “confirms the FCC's authority to promote broadband competition and protect broadband consumers.” He added that the FCC’s data-roaming rules “have empowered consumers and expanded their ability to enjoy the benefits of seamless and nationwide access to mobile data services, including wireless Internet and e-mail.”
The online advocacy and public-affairs group Public Knowledge also praised the decision and said it bodes well for efforts to overturn Verizon’s challenge to the FCC’s network-neutrality rules, which bar broadband providers from discriminating against Internet applications and content.
“The court firmly rejected Verizon's many baseless challenges to the FCC's authority to update its roaming rules,” Public Knowledge staff attorney John Bergmayer said in a statement. “Interestingly, many of the legal arguments Verizon made in its challenge to this order it is also making in its challenge to the commission's open Internet order. This decision may indicate that courts are casting a more skeptical eye on telecommunications companies' endless challenges to the FCC's ability to carry out its job."
Verizon did not have an immediate comment on the decision. Despite its decision to challenge the FCC’s data-roaming rule, Verizon agreed to a condition requiring it to make its network available for data-roaming purposes for subscribers of rival carriers in order to gain commission approval this summer for a deal to buy spectrum from a group of cable companies.