FCC’s About Face on Roaming

Posted by: Bob Quinn on April 21, 2010 at 12:33 pm

AT&T has been a big supporter of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.  That Plan recognized and highlighted the need for significant reforms in areas like universal service, intercarrrier compensation, a renewed vigor and focus on adoption, and the identification of spectrum to fuel the public’s insatiable demand for wireless broadband. The Plan also recognized that massive private investment – by its own estimate $350 Billion – was necessary to build the broadband networks of tomorrow. At the time the Plan was published, we cautioned that regulatory policies must first and foremost continue to support that investment, lest those policies become an impediment to achieving the goals contained in the Plan. Today, in my opinion, the FCC took a significant step backwards.

In the Plan, the FCC clearly recognized the vital role that spectrum plays in the wireless industry and acknowledged that spectrum is a scarce and valuable resource. Indeed, in the leadup to the Plan, Chairman Genachowski referred more than once to a looming “spectrum crisis.”  But today, in one of its first actions following the release of the plan, the Commission has removed a key incentive for a company to invest in, and build out, long-held spectrum licenses in less-populated, rural areas of the country.

Let me back up a bit and explain the concept of roaming in the context of the wireless industry. Roaming is the process by which one wireless carrier avails itself of another carrier’s network when its customer travels out of a specific coverage area but still wants to make wireless calls. All wireless providers, including AT&T, roam on other carriers networks. For the past 20 years, roaming arrangements have been worked out between carriers on a business-to-business basis.

In 2007, the FCC decided that there should be an “automatic roaming” provision to allow any carrier to have the right to roam on another carrier’s network, and that the failure to allow for roaming under reasonable terms and conditions would be considered a violation of the Communications Act. Go forth and roam if you want to.

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Comments by AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson on the FCC’s National Broadband Plan

Posted by: Margaret Boles on March 15, 2010 at 2:58 pm

After over a year of debate, discussion, comment, hard work, and planning by the FCC, tomorrow the National Broadband Plan will be released to the public and delivered to Congress.

While we’ve not yet seen the details, the FCC, led by Chairman Genachowski, has conducted a thorough process, welcoming public input and participation, and we thank them for their efforts.

We’re pleased that the Plan apparently addresses a number of important issues on which the FCC can make significant contributions to the success of broadband and its increasingly important role in our daily lives, our economy, and our government.

Rightfully, universal service and intercarrier compensation reform are critical components of the National Broadband Plan.  Reforming universal service and ensuring affordable broadband for all Americans are the two most critical components of achieving universal broadband.  At the same time, they are also the most difficult and perplexing issues the FCC has struggled with over the last fifteen years.  But we cannot shy away from addressing the hard issues if we are serious about achieving universal broadband deployment and adoption, and we commend the FCC Broadband Team for taking the first steps in this long but crucial journey.

Along with this, we have noted, as have many others, that taking full advantage of the broadband revolution will require new spectrum, and we are very pleased that the FCC has been working to identify 500 MHz of new spectrum for wireless broadband.  Without it, the currently available spectrum simply cannot support new usage, new applications, and innovation – in areas from education to health to jobs.

Finally, as the plan rightly recognizes, we cannot realize its ambitious goal of major new broadband deployments without continued, massive private sector investment.  Even in the midst of this painful recession, AT&T invested $17 billion in 2009 – and we intend to increase our investments this year by as much as $2 billion.   Investments at this high level are rare for any company and should not be taken for granted.  Policymakers should keep this in mind as the debate moves forward.  Regulatory policies must continue to support such investment lest they undercut the core objectives of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan.  It’s as simple as that.  That’s why we’re pleased that the FCC’s plan recognizes the indispensable role of private investment, and why we remain hopeful the FCC will maintain a regulatory atmosphere favorable to that investment.

Randall StephensonOnce again, I commend the Congress for requesting this Plan and the FCC for its hard work in preparing it.  While we may not agree with every recommendation in the Plan, and may even oppose certain ideas, all of us at AT&T look forward to rolling up our sleeves to do our part to achieve this important national objective of 100% broadband availability and adoption.  With everyone working together, and by continuing an atmosphere conducive to private investment, this ambitious goal is within our reach.

Randall Stephenson,  AT&T Chairman and CEO

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