“Broadband is the great infrastructure challenge of the early 21st century.” 

That is the opening sentence of the National Broadband Plan, and the challenge that the Plan spends almost 400 pages trying to address.  And that’s the point Sprint has ignored entirely in responding to my recent blog.

Fact:  There are vast territories in rural Kansas and Oklahoma where Sprint used to offer their customers a 3G on-net broadband wireless experience where they will now rely on roaming (or, the practice of piggy-backing on competitors’ networks).  Sprint may now claim that it had some type of “infrastructure” deal which it characterizes as “roaming” but that is not what Sprint proclaimed in its maps in identifying the “Sprint footprint” and it is certainly not what Sprint told its customers in the affected areas when it started selling them iPhones last year. 

Fact: When those same customers are roaming in those territories after March 1, 2012, they will now be subject to data limits and overage charges.

Fact:  Sprint has un-deployed spectrum throughout all those territories in Kansas and Oklahoma.  Plenty of it.

Fact:  Rather than use the spectrum it owns throughout these states to replace this soon-to-be-lost footprint, they are choosing to go down the path of using other companies’ network investments instead of their own.

Fact:  The only reason Sprint can do this (and conserve cash, by the way, while doing it) is because of the two FCC Orders I referenced in my previous blog.

The question we posed is why government policy in the broadband age should favor and incent the use of roaming over the investment in and deployment of broadband networks.  After a long debate in the record on whether the FCC should mandate data roaming, the Commission concluded – we think wrongly – that data roaming would incent deployment and thus adopted a data roaming mandate.

Sprint’s maps amply demonstrate the error of that policy direction:

Why invest in infrastructure, particularly in hard to serve rural areas like those in central Kansas and Oklahoma, when you can “conserve cash” and simply use the networks of your competitors?

AT&T, on the other hand, has been aggressively building out spectrum across the country to bring advanced broadband services to as many consumers as we can.  We recently expanded our LTE buildout to 26 markets.

Cash conservation is great for the bottom line, but it doesn’t get broadband networks built.  Sprint’s spokesman can try to gussy up this policy as pro-consumer, but there is nothing pro-consumer about shrinking your network, especially for the consumers who live in those affected areas.

The evidence is mounting that the FCC made a bad mistake with these rules, a mistake that could undermine all their lofty promises – and the President’s promises – about advancing broadband deployment.

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