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.