The FCC today passed a measure that will give smartphone users greater access to the mobile Internet. The order requires wireless operators to offer data roaming on "commercially reasonable" terms to their competitors.

AT&T and Verizon Wireless have lobbied against the measure, but the mandate has been widely supported by AT&T's and Verizon's smaller competitors and is seen as particularly important to struggling rural operators.

The data roaming mandate passed on a 3-2 vote along party lines, with conservative-leaning commissioners Meredith Baker and Robert McDowell opposing the measure.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, commissioner Mignon Clyburn and commissioner Michael Copps voted in favor of the regulations.

Sprint government affairs executive Vonya McCann said the order was particularly important in light of AT&T's plans to acquire T-Mobile USA.

"Reasonable access to data roaming services is essential to the expansion of mobile broadband service," McCann said. "With AT&T's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile and the corresponding threat it poses to continued wireless competition, it is absolutely critical that the FCC take steps to promote competition and level the playing field."

The Rural Cellular Association (RCA) was also pleased with the FCC's move, calling it a "watershed decision."

"A data roaming mandate would ensure that every carrier in the United States could negotiate a data agreement with the largest carriers," RCA President and CEO Steven Berry said in an interview conducted before the FCC's vote. "There's an enormous disparity between the willingness of the large carriers to negotiate on data roaming agreements and the needs of the small regional carriers they are competing with."

AT&T continued to voice its opposition to the data roaming mandate, calling the measure an attempt to regulate roaming rates downward.

"We continue to believe that a data roaming mandate is unwarranted and will discourage investment and build-out of broadband facilities for both those seeking regulated roaming rates and those forced to wholesale facilities at those rates," AT&T regulatory affairs executive Bob Quinn said.