Earlier this year, T-Mobile petitioned the FCC to make changes to its data roaming agreement guidelines. Complaining that the Commission’s current rules are too vague, and could lead to companies like AT&T charging smaller carriers exorbitant amounts for national data roaming. It was a move which saw the backing of the Competitive Carriers Association, Sprint and a number of other smaller carriers. AT&T actively defended the current rules, claiming that any changes would “violate the Telecommunications Act”.
Yesterday, the FCC announced that it is siding with T-Mobile’s petition and disagreeing with both Verizon and AT&T’s arguments against making any changes. The new ruling will make clear what the FCC means when it states that data roaming rates should be “commercially reasonable”. And although it won’t change data roaming rules – as such – it will provide a better understanding to carriers as to how the regulator will evaluate potential complaints.
“In our view, the data roaming rule was intended to permit consideration of the totality of the facts and therefore to permit a complaining party to adduce evidence in any individual case as to whether proffered roaming rates are substantially in excess of retail rates, international rates, and MVNO/resale rates, as well as a comparison of proffered roaming rates to domestic roaming rates as charged by other providers.”
T-Mobile was quick to praise the FCC’s latest actions stating:
“We commend the FCC for taking this important step to promote competition by facilitating reasonable data roaming rates for all carriers and their customers.”
Unsurprisingly, the two old-school carriers (who both stand to lose some control) didn’t react as positively. AT&T claimed that it disagrees strongly with the decision, and that the carrier will appeal “to the full commission, and further if necessary.” Verizon, likewise, stated that the manner in which the new ruling was decided is “deeply troubling”.
Perhaps what Verizon and AT&T fail to see is that given the amount of spectrum they both own, and the amount of market share they control, they should be held accountable for misusing that control. If smaller carriers with lesser resources feel they’ve been asked for unreasonable amounts of money for roaming on either of the networks, they should have a way to measure that. And – more importantly – clearer guidelines on when they can bring the complaint to the FCC.
Just like when T-Mobile persuaded the FCC to change spectrum auction rules, this is another win for the Uncarrier. And perhaps, these changes to telecommunications guidelines and rules are just as important as any of the more obvious Uncarrier changes T-Mo has made this year.