T-Mobile Argues Against AT&T, Verizon Roaming Rates

The carrier continues to say the roaming rates charged by the two industry giants are unreasonable and harmful to customers.

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T-Mobile executives are continuing to court industry and public support in the carrier's efforts to persuade federal regulators to combat what they say are unreasonable data roaming terms from market Goliaths AT&T and Verizon.

In a post on the carrier's blog Sept. 2, Kathleen Ham, vice president of federal regulatory affairs for T-Mobile US, reiterated the company's argument that AT&T and Verizon—which control a large swath of available spectrum—are unfairly gouging smaller carriers like T-Mobile and Sprint in the roaming rates they charge and that, in response, T-Mobile is forced to restrict its users' data use while roaming.

As a result, many customers who rely on Sprint, T-Mobile and other smaller carriers are hindered in their data usage because of the high roaming rates AT&T and Verizon charge, Ham wrote.

"Data roaming should not be a controversial subject," she wrote. "Customers expect they can access the data features and functions of their mobile devices at home and on the road. Even the customers of the largest wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon, need to roam on other carriers' networks when they travel into a network coverage gap or a hard-to-build area served by another wireless carrier."

However, AT&T and Verizon are unfairly using their size to hinder smaller competitors via the roaming rates they charge.

"Scale makes a difference in the wireless industry," Ham wrote. "After years of stockpiling spectrum licenses, gobbling up smaller carriers and expanding their networks, AT&T and Verizon don't need roaming as much as the rest of us. And it shows. The rates they charge and conditions they impose are designed to cripple competition, not facilitate roaming. "

For example, the data roaming rates AT&T charges T-Mobile are 150 percent higher than the average rate T-Mobile pays to others for data roaming, and 1,000 times the rate negotiated between Leap Wireless and MetroPCS when they were independent companies, she wrote.

T-Mobile has been battling AT&T, Verizon and other wireless carriers over prices since John Legere was appointed president and CEO of the company in 2012. Most recently, T-Mobile in late August expanded its Simple Starter entry plan to include as an option 2GB of data and unlimited talk and text for $45 a month, all in response to Sprint's announcement of an unlimited data plan for $60 a month.

While the price war has been going on for a while, T-Mobile officials in May filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to fix what they said is a "dysfunctional" wireless roaming market by setting "benchmarks" on roaming rates and asking for a clarification on what the agency means by "commercially reasonable" when it comes to roaming rates. It's a position that has been supported by Sprint in a filing with the FCC in August and common-interest groups like Public Knowledge, Common Cause and the Open Technology Institute at New America Foundation.

AT&T and Verizon have opposed T-Mobile's efforts.

In her blog, T-Mobile's Ham said resolving the roaming rate debate is important to carrier customers.

"Roaming has always been an important part of the wireless ecosystem, but today, it is more crucial than ever as consumers everywhere demand high-speed, high-capacity mobile broadband services," she wrote. "We say we want robust wireless competition. We say we want broadband service in all corners of the country. We say we want to be the number one wireless nation in the world. Well, ensuring that data roaming is actually provided on commercially reasonable rates, terms, and conditions is a critical step toward achieving that vision."

T-Mobile has been the subject of acquisition speculation, even though Sprint reportedly ended its pursuit last month after Dan Hesse was replaced as Sprint CEO. However, reports have surfaced that French telecommunications operator Iliad is continuing its interest of T-Mobile, which is owned by Deutsche Telekom.