Verizon Loses Battle With FCC Over Data Roaming Rules
December 5, 2012

Court Of Appeals Upholds FCC Data Roaming Rules, Verizon Must Comply

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A U.S. appeals court has unanimously upheld the Federal Communications Commission´s requirements that major wireless carriers make their mobile broadband networks available to smaller providers through roaming agreements with “reasonable” rates.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit found that the FCC was within its rights to apply the data roaming rules to Verizon.

"This unanimous decision confirms the FCC's authority to promote broadband competition and protect broadband consumers," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement.

"Our rules have empowered consumers and expanded their ability to enjoy the benefits of seamless and nationwide access to mobile data services, including wireless Internet and e-mail. Enacting data roaming rules is one of many strong actions the FCC has taken in this area, and we will continue to promote broadband investment and innovation."

The FCC approved its data roaming regulation last April in a 3-to-2 vote along party lines. The rules let mobile users remain connected as they travel outside their network's coverage area by connecting to an alternate provider's network.

The FCC said the rules are important to smaller carriers, who say they cannot compete against major wireless providers such as Verizon and AT&T without data roaming agreements.

The FCC did not set precise rates for data roaming agreements when the rule was approved, saying it would leave it to the parties involved to set their own terms. The agency said it would treat any complaints about data roaming on a case-by-case basis.

Verizon objected to the rules shortly after they were approved, calling them a “new level of unwarranted government intervention in the wireless marketplace."

The company filed suit a month later, arguing that the Commission lacked the authority to establish such restrictions, and that providers were already entering into roaming agreements voluntarily anyway.

"A data roaming rule was unnecessary–because providers were already entering into roaming agreements voluntarily–and inadvisable–because it would reduce investment incentives,” Verizon said.

But the appeals court disagreed, siding with the FCC.

"Verizon argues that the Commission lacks statutory authority to issue the rule and that the rule unlawfully treats mobile-internet providers as common carriers," wrote Judge David Tatel in the opinion of the court.

However, the FCC's first "foray into roaming began in 1981 when it adopted a limited voice roaming requirement as part of the original cellular-service rules,” Judge Tatel noted.

"We disagree on both counts. Title III of the Communications Act of 1934 plainly empowers the Commission to promulgate the data roaming rule.”

"All but two major national carriers–Verizon and AT&T–favored a data roaming rule in some form,” the court said.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Verizon said the court´s findings simply upheld current industry practices.

"Today's ruling upheld rules that require carriers to offer data roaming on commercially reasonable terms," a Verizon spokesman said.

"As we made clear throughout the case, Verizon Wireless regularly enters into such data roaming agreements on commercially reasonable terms to meet the needs of consumers, and will continue to do so."

The court´s full opinion can be viewed here.