Verizon must play by FCC's roaming rules, appeals court says

Cell tower
A win for the little guy

Little-guy carriers got a whopping victory Tuesday as a court of appeals upheld Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules saying major carriers must let smaller services use certain wireless data networks at reasonable rates.

The unanimous federal court ruling squashes a bid by Verizon to challenge the FCC orders, which the agency voted on last year.

Verizon argued the FCC went beyond its jurisdiction in implementing the requirements. However, according to the court, the commission was within its jurisdiction to issue the edict.

According to the FCC's orders, companies like Verizon and AT&T must offer competitors roaming agreements for networks owned by the carriers on "commercially reasonable terms." The court said that if Verizon doesn't like the rule, it doesn't have to provide "mobile-internet service."

Verizon's side

According to CNET, Verizon argued that its roaming agreements should be free of government regulation when it comes to which carriers it partners with and for how much it charges for network use.

Verizon's Executive Director of Corporate Communications Robin Nicol seemed to allude to that principle when she offered TechRadar this response to the court's ruling via email:

"Today's ruling upheld rules that require carriers to offer data roaming on commercially reasonable terms," Nicol wrote.

"As we made clear throughout the case, Verizon Wireless regularly enters into such data roaming agreements on commercially reasonable terms to meet the needs of consumers, and will continue to do so."

As it made its case, Verizon argued that the FCC doesn't have the power to regulate the internet and thus went beyond its authority in issuing the roaming rules. The court's ruling effectively rejects that claim.

FCC responds

TechRadar asked FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski for comment on the court's ruling, but did not hear from him by the time of this posting.

In a published statement, Genachowski said that the decision "confirms the FCC's authority to promote broadband competition and protect broadband consumers."

The FCC's rules were born of complaints from smaller carriers that the dominant AT&T and Verizon are frequently recalcitrant to enter into roaming agreements. The two carriers control more than 60 percent of the wireless market and operate the US's largest networks.

For Genachowski and smaller carriers, the FCC's rules are designed to ensure competition continues to provide consumers with as many choices as possible while helping competition thrive.

Nicol didn't provide comment on what Verizon plans to do post-appeal ruling, but we can't imagine this is the last we've heard of the fight between Big Read and the FCC.


Michelle Fitzsimmons

Michelle was previously a news editor at TechRadar, leading consumer tech news and reviews. Michelle is now a Content Strategist at Facebook.  A versatile, highly effective content writer and skilled editor with a keen eye for detail, Michelle is a collaborative problem solver and covered everything from smartwatches and microprocessors to VR and self-driving cars.