The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is siding with T-Mobile, particularly on the subject of making the rules for wireless data roaming clearer. This latest development has the potential of making negotiations of data roaming deals with AT&T and Verizon Wireless a lot more easy for smaller wireless operators.
But how will this affect consumers? Well, it could pave the way for lower prices and improved 3G and 4G service coverage when using Sprint and T-Mobile. Moreover, if these carriers can provide better coverage at much lower rates via data roaming deals, they could also compel AT&T and Verizon Wireless to lower the prices of their own service plans too.
Last Thursday, the FCC's Wireless Bureau issued a decision on a petition filed by T-Mobile earlier this year. The petition called for the agency to set clear guidelines for how it defines or qualifies exactly what data roaming rates are considered reasonable or not.
To give an idea, network roaming is what happens when a wireless operator utilizes the network of another operator especially in areas where it does not have existing coverage. Ever since the mobile industry started, roaming arrangements have already been common (especially for wireless operators who want to provide better and more far-reaching coverage).
But as the entire industry has become more cohesive and just as the two biggest wireless carriers in the United States -- AT&T and Verizon Wireless -- have expanded their reach, these more established carriers are now less open to striking network roaming agreements with smaller rival carriers, especially with regards to their 3G and 4G data networks.
Three years ago in 2011, the FCC started requiring all carriers to offer roaming deals to competitors at reasonable rates. But carriers (like T-Mobile) began to complain to the FCC that AT&T and Verizon Wireless are charging smaller carriers ridiculously high data roaming rates. T-Mobile wanted FCC to clarify just exactly what “reasonable” means.
As for AT&T, it defended the 2011 regulations, stating that no clarifications are needed. However, on Thursday night, the FCC's Wireless Bureau issued its ruling, saying that some clarifications were in fact required.
The first point the FCC clarified was that current data roaming prices do not establish a presumption that similar future prices are also reasonable. Secondly, roaming charges paid in other contexts (foreign-based carriers paying to roam in the US, or what mobile virtual network operators pay in order to access the network) are important evidence in deciding if roaming rates are indeed reasonable or not, especially in a formal dispute (between T-Mobile and AT&T for instance) before the FCC.
The decision by the FCC to clarify the rules has been warmly received by T-Mobile, Sprint, and other smaller operators. Unsurprisingly, AT&T and Verizon Wireless were not too happy with the FCC's ruling.
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