Legislators Harangue Over Roaming

July 2 2008
RCR Wireless News

While wireless providers — large and small — differ on such hot-button issues as universal service support, exclusive handset arrangements and special access, the controversy over roaming has the potential to become the major fault line in the cellphone industry.

The consolidation trend is making an already ruff-and-tumble roaming dispute even more volatile.

The deep divide over roaming pits small, mid-sized, rural and the No. 3 and 4 national carriers against the two largest wireless providers, AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless. The former group remains dissatisfied with last year’s FCC ruling. The decision declared automatic roaming a common-carrier obligation for cellular operators, but ignited fireworks over such provisions as the in-market exemption, the applicability of the new roaming rule to push-to-talk service and the possibility of extending it to high-speed wireless Internet services.

The FCC has yet to rule on regulatory challenges to its roaming order. Under new guidelines, wireless providers are required to offer ‘reasonable and non-discriminatory’ roaming services to other carriers’ customers upon request. But there is no hard and fast rule to ascertain what is reasonable or non-discriminatory other than that dictated by market forces. As such, there remains no cap on how much carriers can charge others for automatic roaming service.