News

FCC to Oversee Data Roaming

4/11/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — The Federal Communications Commission
voted 3-2 on straight party lines last week to extend
its oversight over wireless-telephone roaming to
broadband-data agreements, one of a number of steps it
took at its monthly public meeting to promote both wired
and wireless broadband.

Republican commissioners were strongly opposed to the
move. They said the agency does not have the authority to
determine rates or conditions in those private agreements.
The decision is tantamount to imposing common-carrier
regulations on the data service, they suggested.

Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, countered
that such a view was “flat wrong,” and that only the two
major wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, opposed
what he suggested was a logical and light-touch extension
of the roaming rules, echoing his characterization
of the compromise on wired broadband network-neutrality
regulations, compared to the more-draconian Title II
classification.

The FCC is essentially saying that it makes no sense for
consumers to have access to voice roaming and not data
roaming. The major carriers agree, but said that deals are
getting done. The FCC said they aren’t.

Among those supporting the move was the National Cable
& Telecommunications Association, which said in response
to the vote last week that “adopting enforceable
data-roaming rights will enable new entrants to compete
on a nationwide basis and give consumers more choice
and flexibility in wireless services.”

Cable operators, most notably Cox Communications,
and wireless-Internet provider Clearwire are among
those carriers that will benefit from extending the roaming
rules, which would require negotiations on “commercially
reasonable” terms, subject to FCC oversight on a
case-by-case basis.

Republican commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith
Attwell Baker argued that substituting the “commercially
reasonable” standard for the “fair and reasonable”
standard under common-carrier regulations did not
change the essential common carrier nature of the move,
which they said would involved the FCC setting rates and
terms — authority it does not hold over an information
service.

FCC general counsel Austin Schlick said that the order
allows carriers to negotiate individually, rather than requiring
standard terms across the board, which distinguished
it from common-carrier regulations.

The order also allows those deals to require comparable
service between the facilitities-based provider and
the carrier seeking the roaming agreement, and allows
for taking into account possible congestion and networkmanagement
issues.

While McDowell suggested the decision was another move
that could invite a court smackdown, Genachowski said the
agency had prevailed in 15 of its 16 most recent “direct statuatory
challenges to [its] orders” in court.

The lone loss, however, was a notable one: It struck down
the FCC’s sanction of Comcast for blocking the BitTorrent
peer-to-peer file-sharing service, raising questions about
the FCC’s authority over Internet access.

“This [data-roaming rule] sounds very much like the
FCC giving away one company’s property/investment at
some unknown cost to another company, which in turn
does not have to make the same investment,” Tom Schatz
of Citizens Against Government Waste said in response to
the vote. “Similar to the effects of net neutrality, this will
stifle investment and innovation, and discourage companies
from expanding their wireless networks.”

FCC’S POLE POSITION

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission voted last week to adopt reforms to its poleattachment
rules in the interests of promoting broadband deployment. The new rules will make it
cheaper and easier for cable operators and wireless companies to use utility poles to deploy broadband.
According to the FCC, they do the following:

• Give utilities a maximum of 148 days to allow pole attachments in the communications space,
with a maximum of 178 days allowed for attachments of wireless antennas on pole tops and an
extra 60 days for large orders;

• Set the rate for attachments by telecommunications companies at or near the rate paid by cable
companies;

• Confirm that wireless providers are entitled to the same rate as other telecommunications carriers;

• Allow incumbent local-exchange carriers, which are not covered by the rate schedule, to file
complaints with the FCC for relief from unreasonable rates, terms, and conditions;

• Clarify that the denial by a utility of a request for attachment must explain the specific capacity,
safety, reliability or engineering concern;

• Encourage negotiated resolution of disputes and pre-planning and coordination between pole owners
and attachers, which will be taken into account in any enforcement action; and

• Remove the cap on penalties for unauthorized attachments.

SOURCE: Federal Communications Commission

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