AT&T, Verizon to be forced to share data networks with rivals

Under rules approved by US regulator the FCC, AT&T and Verizon will be required to share their data networks with smaller operators. Network sharing arrangements for voice calls are already mandatory; prior to yesterday’s ruling, network sharing for mobile data was arranged on a voluntary basis. Under the terms of the new ruling, prices for network sharing will be set by the FCC.

Both AT&T and Verizon had opposed the measures, which saw the FCC divided when it came to making a decision—the vote was passed 3-2. According to Verizon vice president of public affairs, Tom Tauke, the FCC’s action “represents a new level of unwarranted government intervention in the wireless marketplace.” Verizon said that it already had 40 data-roaming agreements in place and that it had also “formed an industry-leading spectrum-sharing partnership with rural carriers to expand the reach of 4G services in rural areas.”

According to Tauke, the regulation would discourage network investment in less profitable areas and, as such, was “directly contrary to the interests of rural America and the development of facilities-based competition and potential job creation.” AT&T’s Robert Quinn accused supporters of the ruling of trying to “regulate rates downward” rather than simply obtain agreements, “which are plentiful.”

Tauke said that forcing carriers that have invested in wireless infrastructure to make those networks available to competitors that avoid this investment “discourages network investment in less profitable areas.” Verizon said that the FCC “does not have the statutory authority” to impose the ruling, an opinion shared by Republican commissioner Robert McDowell, who voted against the measure. Carriers that are unable to reach agreement can make an appeal to the FCC.

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