Verizon offers roaming compromise
For the second time in a week, Verizon Wireless is offering up a concession to regulators and smaller carriers. This time, it’s about in-market or “home” roaming.
Currently, nationwide carriers are not required to offer roaming in markets where competitors own spectrum but haven’t yet built it out. Smaller carriers with spectrum say it takes time to build out markets and that they need roaming in the interim.
In a letter addressed Wednesday night to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Verizon says it would support a statute or Federal Communications Commission rule requiring a carrier to offer automatic roaming to a requesting carrier’s subscribers for two years from the date the statute or rule takes effect. Conditions apply, but after the two years, it would extend it another year if the requesting carrier has met build-out benchmarks to be established by statute or the FCC.
“We believe our proposal strikes a fair balance between addressing the concerns raised about home roaming while encouraging carriers to invest in their spectrum and build their networks,” Verizon Wireless CEO and President Lowell McAdam said in the letter to Waxman and other lawmakers.
Leap Wireless International, which has lobbied hard for regulators to address the home roaming issue, says Verizon’s proposal misses the mark. Leap’s operating subsidiary Cricket Communications relied on Alltel for about 25 percent of its roaming traffic. Carriers like Verizon have argued that mandated home roaming rules would create a disincentive for carriers with spectrum to build out their networks.
“Cricket has a stellar record of rapidly building out networks over its 10-year history – any notion that fair and reasonable roaming rules discourages build-out is malarkey,” said Laurie Itkin, Cricket’s director of government affairs. “We urge Congress and the FCC to reject Verizon’s proposal and adopt roaming rules for voice and data that will benefit – instead of harm – consumers.”
In June, Itkin testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy & Consumer Rights, calling Verizon’s behavior anti-competitive and asking for “just, reasonable and non-discriminatory” roaming rates.
Verizon’s well-publicized proposals to negotiate on key wireless industry issues  come after lawmakers and regulators have made moves to more closely scrutinize the state of competition in wireless, including exclusive handset deals.
In a letter today addressed to Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman and publisher of The New York Times Co., Verizon’s McAdam says a few vocal critics, including the paper, have leveled misleading charges at wireless companies. He sets forth to address myths, such as, “Americans pay more for wireless service” and the wireless sector not being competitive. More than 94 percent of Americans can choose between at least four wireless companies, he says.