Statement of Carri Bennet, General Counsel to the Rural Telecommunications Group
Washington, D.C. – Since 2007, the Rural Telecommunications Group (RTG) has advocated for the FCC to establish a data roaming mandate. While the National Broadband Plan recognized the need for such a mandate, the FCC has not yet acted on its own recommendation.
Regarding data roaming, there is no question that there is a severe market failure. AT&T and Verizon Wireless (Verizon) have a duopoly in the mobile wireless marketplace and it is predicted they will have a combined market share of more than 70% by 2014. AT&T and Verizon currently enjoy a huge head start over their competitors by implementing 4G data services in the 700 MHz band which is structured so that there is a lack of interoperability in the band caused by specific band plans that serve to benefit the duopolists.
On the flip side, RTG’s members are very small — most serving less than 10,000 subscribers in rural and remote areas. AT&T and Verizon tend to avoid serving these rural areas unless there is an Interstate highway running through them. And, it will only get worse. Without the assurance of fair and equitable data roaming agreements, small and rural wireless carriers cannot move forward with committing the capital necessary to implement 3G or 4G data services. This, in turn, leaves rural consumers stranded with no access to a rural 3G or 4G network.
President Obama has made it very clear that 4G needs to be rolled out across the U.S. – including in rural areas. RTG’s members are willing to move forward with such deployments, provided they can assure their rural consumers that their devices will be able to access data networks outside of their rural areas on fair and equitable terms. Without these data roaming agreements or assurances that these data roaming agreements will be forthcoming, President Obama’s vision will not be realized.
It is unfair to ask rural consumers to purchase two devices and two data service plans, one to use in their rural community and one to use when they travel outside their rural area, basically doubling the cost of data services. Likewise, it disserves urban consumers not be able to roam in rural areas simply because AT&T and Verizon refuse to enter into reciprocal roaming agreements to utilize rural carriers’ networks when they have no coverage available in the rural area.
The FCC must act before it is too late. The current market failure is destroying competition in the mobile broadband sector which in turn results in the lack of wireless broadband services in rural America, job loss and a decline in innovation – none of which serve the public interest.
About RTG – Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Rural Telecommunications Group, Inc. (RTG) is a trade association representing rural wireless carriers who each serve less than 100,000 subscribers. RTG’s members have joined together to speed delivery of new, efficient and innovative telecommunications technologies to remote and underserved communities. ruraltelecomgroup.org @RTGwireless
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