With some mobile operators making it difficult for people to use data services while roaming on their networks, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is now working to develop a rule that would require them to negotiate reasonable data roaming deals with other operators.
Some providers have been unwilling to negotiate data roaming agreements or have "created long delays or taken other steps to impede healthy competition and roaming for consumers," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a letter to members of Congress. He was responding to representatives who wrote to him asking what authority the FCC had to regulate data roaming.
In the letter, Genachowski said the FCC has the authority under the Communications Act to set rules governing mobile operators for the convenience of end users.
He also said he has circulated a draft order to the other commissioners for consideration. The order would require operators to offer data roaming arrangements with other carriers on commercially reasonable terms and conditions.
The public record contains "abundant evidence from both national and rural businesses" that a rule is necessary since some operators have been reluctant to negotiate data roaming agreements, he said. The policy is needed "to ensure vibrant competition in the mobile marketplace, to unleash billions of dollars of investment that is currently sidelined, to create thousands of new jobs and to meet the consumer demand for seamless nationwide coverage, be it for voice or data," he wrote.
He also wrote that the transition to LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks makes data roaming even more important. "As the mobile world moves to LTE, the Commission's basic bipartisan voice roaming rules will be in jeopardy, as they will no longer ensure automatic voice roaming," he said.
That's because in the future operators may transmit voice calls using VOIP over LTE, classifying voice as a data service. Without data roaming, an operator might lose the ability to let its customers use voice services when outside of the operator's coverage area.
The rule proposes to allow operators to negotiate and determine terms on a customer-by-customer basis.
Genachowski sent the letter to 12 members of Congress including Republicans Representative Joe Barton of Texas, Representative Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and California Representative Mary Bono Mack.