Roaming & Investment

In a post at AT&T’s Public Policy Blog, Bob Quinn, the company’s Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory and Chief Privacy Officer, argues that the recent announcement from wireless carrier Sprint that it was going to rely on roaming to provide customers coverage in Kansas and Oklahoma reveals major flaws in two orders from the FCC:

First, in 2010, the FCC reversed itself by eliminating the Home Market Rule. That rule, which was pretty logical and straightforward, said that, if a carrier owned spectrum, it was good public policy to require them to build out that spectrum and therefore they should not be able to demand roaming from other carriers in those “home markets.” Thus, if Sprint owned spectrum in Kansas and Oklahoma, it wouldn’t have a regulatory “right” to roam. Then, last April, the Commission extended roaming rules that had previously been limited to voice services (and that now contain no Home Market exception) to broadband infrastructure.

In arguing to impose those requirements on its competitors, both Sprint and the FCC said that broadband roaming obligations would actually promote “the deployment of broadband facilities and thus expand coverage.”  Good in theory, I suppose, but not in practice, as I stated at the time. As a result of those two FCC Orders, Sprint can now use other folks’ networks rather than pony up its own investment dollars. Nice work if you can get it.

Quinn goes on to explain why his company is hopeful the D.C. Court of Appears will step in to scale back the FCC’s orders:

We remain hopeful that the Court will reject the FCC’s market intervention here and realize that this regulation actually disincents investment by everyone in the marketplace at a time when promoting investment and job growth should be priority #1 for every policymaker in this country.  And it serves as another lesson in why unbridled discretion to shape markets in the name of competition is not always good public policy.

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