FCC Approves Data Roaming Requirements for Cell Carriers

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved new rules on Tuesday that require wireless service providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to offer data roaming deals with competitors. The new rules state that carriers that own their infrastructure and wireless spectrum must give competitors “commercially reasonable terms” to use their data services, according to CNET.

Data roaming deals approved by FCCNew FCC rules require wireless data roaming deals for carriers

The FCC said the rules are necessary to ensure that cell phone and smartphone users have access to wireless data when they roam outside of their carrier’s service area. Smaller carriers seem pleased with the rules because they claim the big name players often refuse to negotiate with them.

The biggest carriers in the U.S., Verizon and AT&T, aren’t pleased with the rules and claim they have already struck data roaming deals with many carriers and don’t need government regulations to force them to the negotiation table.

“Roaming agreements for both voice and data are in place throughout the country, and were reached through normal commercial negotiations,” commented AT&T senior vice president of regulatory affairs Bob Quinn.

He added that the rule’s supporters were simply looking for government intervention to get better rates.

Not everyone on the FCC panel thought the new rules were a good idea, either. The vote followed party lines with the three Democrats on the panel voting in favor while the two Republicans voted against.

“I also agree with my colleagues that many benefits flow from the widespread availability of data roaming,” said Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell. “Nonetheless, the commission simply does not have the legal authority to adopt the regulatory regime mandated by this order.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski disagreed, saying he thinks the agency does have the authority to mandate data roaming requirements. He added that “Attempts to enter into data roaming negotiations with nationwide providers are ‘many times rejected out of hand.’ One company reported that ‘even our requests for an assurance to negotiate at some point in the future have been refused.’”

With the controversy surrounding the new data roaming rules, don’t expect them to go unchallenged. Verizon and AT&T haven’t said they have plans to fight the rules, but it seems likely someone will.