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November 13, 2010 / Matt Gerardi

FCC Proposal Would Force Cellular Providers To Share Data Networks

The FCC is considering a rule that would force larger cellular providers — AT&T, Verizon — to share their data networks with users of smaller and regional providers while roaming. (Politico)

The proposal has drawn the ire of the nation’s two largest cellular companies who are claiming the FCC has no legal authority to impose such rules that would allow their competition to piggyback on the massive networks they have built. The cellular companies that are backing the proposal — T-Mobile, Sprint, Metro-PCS — say the roaming is necessary for ensuring their customers have the ability to send heavy data messages in areas where their own networks are unavailable.

The FCC already requires the larger networks to allow roaming of voice calls, but data roaming falls under a different classification.

This is just the latest conflict in the FCC’s struggle to regulate broadband. 3G cellular networks fall under broadband by current standards and the FCC has no ability to regulate it. If broadband is reclassified as a telecommunications service, rather than an information service, than the FCC will have greater ability to regulate the actions of cellular providers. Until then it’s very possible that the FCC will be unable to enact this proposal.

As of now, data roaming agreements are dealt with solely by the cellular companies and the larger providers have free range to either deny requests from smaller companies or charge them ridiculously high fees.

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