Benchmarks established, other policy aspects clarified in response to T-Mobile petition
The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau has given the wireless industry an early Christmas gift by granting T-Mobile’s Petition for Declaratory Ruling regarding data roaming rates. As we previously reported, back in May, T-MO had asked the FCC to provide the industry with guidance as to what a “commercially reasonable” roaming rate is. The term “commercially reasonable” was imposed on data roaming by the FCC three years ago. (Readers will recall that Verizon challenged the FCC decision in court but lost, leaving the obligation to be commercially reasonable intact.) Since then, though, T-MO and many other smaller carriers have been having trouble negotiating data roaming rates with AT&T and Verizon, as the Big Two carriers have resisted terms that smaller carriers viewed as “commercially reasonable” – a negotiating tactic made possible because the precise metes and bounds of “commercial reasonableness” have never been defined. And therein lies the rub – hence T-MO’s petition.
Numerous carriers, including T-MO, have been trying to negotiate data roaming rates with AT&T and Verizon, only to find that their conception of what is commercially reasonable is a lot different from AT&T and Verizon’s conception. The smaller carriers have complained that the rates offered them by AT&T and Verizon have been anywhere from 8 to 100 times higher than retail rates offered by the big carriers to their own customers. Because “commercially reasonable” is a term new to the communications lexicon, there has been no easy reference point for establishing a benchmark for data roaming. (The more customary standard – applicable to common carrier rates – is that they be “just and reasonable”. That standard predates the 1934 Communications Act itself, with roots in the old rate regulation scheme for railroad traffic.) So despite the court-approved existence of an obligation to offer commercially reasonable rates, data roaming rate negotiations were getting nowhere. This has gotten especially critical in recent months as companies have needed to enter into roaming agreements for LTE traffic, a form of data roaming.
In its petition T-MO asked that the FCC identify “benchmarks” for assessing “commercial reasonableness”:Continue Reading...