The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday adopted an order that requires facilities-based providers of commercial mobile data services to offer data roaming agreements to other providers on commercially reasonable terms and conditions.
The agency asserted that consumers would be limited in their choices, particularly in rural areas, without data roaming agreements. The FCC’s requirement is subject to certain limitations.
“By adopting a ‘commercially reasonable’ standard for data roaming offers, we give carriers flexibility to tailor agreements to different environments and to account for concerns regarding congestion and technical compatibility," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said.
The commission will not regulate rates for data roaming agreements, Genachowski said, but leave it to the parties to set their terms.
A Verizon Communications executive criticized the FCC for what he said reflected “a new level of unwarranted government intervention in the wireless marketplace."
“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," said Verizon’s Tom Tauke, executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications.
Genachowski responded to criticism that the order was unnecessary.
He said “the record makes clear that some providers have refused to negotiate 3G or 4G data roaming agreements, have created long delays, or have taken other steps to impede competition."
The FCC said parties can resolve data roaming disputes by filing a petition for a declaratory ruling or lodging a formal or informal complaint.
“Disputes would be resolved on a case-by-case basis taking into consideration the unique facts and circumstances in each instance," the FCC stated in the news release. “Commission staff may require both parties to provide their best and final offers."
FCC Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, the two Republicans on the commission, voted against the order.
McDowell said the regulations conflict with federal law and FCC precedent.
Baker said the order “creates perverse incentives for parties seeking mandated roaming agreements."
“There will now be a real risk of a revolving door as parties file repeated complaints attempting to get the lowest mandated rate," Baker added. “This type of gamesmanship should not be permitted as it will undermine the commercial process and create a non-trivial burden on Commission resources."