AT&T: T-Mobile Request Would ‘Eviscerate’ FCC Data Roaming Rules

The Federal Communications Commission requires that facilities-based providers of commercial mobile data services offer data roaming agreements to other providers on terms and conditions that are “commercially reasonable.”

Earlier this year, T-Mobile USA Inc. sought guidance from the FCC on the circumstances in which a roaming agreement meets that standard. In a petition filed on May 27, the wireless carrier said “real-world industry experience shows that providers continue to be stymied in their efforts to negotiate data roaming agreements on commercially reasonable terms.”

“The data roaming marketplace, and the consumers who rely on it for ubiquitous, affordable wireless service, would benefit substantially if the Commission provided greater clarity on the meaning of its ‘commercially reasonable’ standard in the context of data roaming,” T-Mobile USA said.

AT&T has a different opinion, citing T-Mobile’s failure to name one example in which a carrier has filed a formal complaint with the FCC on the basis that a company was unable to secure commercially reasonable terms.

T-Mobile is requesting a ruling that would “effectively eviscerate that FCC decision” and be contrary to a ruling from a federal court that upheld the data roaming rules, argued Joan Marsh, AT&T Vice President of Federal Regulatory, in a blog on Friday.

“T-Mobile proposes a series of rule modifications that would move well beyond clarifications in an attempt to unlawfully rewrite the Commission’s data roaming  rules in ways that would limit marketplace flexibility, undermine incentives to invest in broadband networks, and constitute prohibited common carriage regulation,” Marsh declared.

Others disagree. COMPTEL, an industry trade association representing competitive carriers, yesterday expressed its support for T-Mobile’s petition in an FCC filing.

“While the Commission adopted a non-exhaustive list of factors it would consider in determining the commercial reasonableness of terms and conditions proffered for data roaming arrangements, it also made clear that providers were free to argue that the Commission should consider other relevant factors, including price,” COMPTEL wrote. “Smaller wireless carriers have brought to the Commission’s attention the difficulties they continue to experience in negotiating reasonable data roaming arrangements with Verizon and AT&T, even after the adoption of the data roaming rules.”

Three years ago, Verizon challenged the FCC’s wireless data roaming order. At the time, a Verizon executive criticized the FCC for what he said reflected “a new level of unwarranted government intervention in the wireless marketplace.” In support of its order, the commission asserted consumers would be limited in their choices, particularly rural areas, without such roaming agreements.

A federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. later rejected Verizon’s challenge.

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