Appeals Court Rejects Verizon Data Roaming Appeal

A federal appeals court has rejected Verizon's challenge to
the FCC's data roaming rules.

In a decision released Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals
for the District of Columbia said the FCC had performed "a thoughtful and
nuanced balance of the costs and benefits of the data roaming rule."

The FCC rule in question required mobile data providers to
offer roaming agreements to competitors on "commercially reasonable" terms, one
of many FCC actions to try and spur mobile broadband.

Verizon challenged the requirement, saying the FCC lacked
the authority to issue that mandate and that it treated mobile Internet as a
common carrier.

The court did not agree.

"We disagree on both counts. Title III of the
Communications Act of 1934 plainly empowers the Commission to promulgate the
data roaming rule," wrote Judge David Tatel. "And although the rule
bears some marks of common carriage, we defer to the Commission's determination
that the rule imposes no common carrier obligations on mobile-Internet
providers. In response to Verizon's remaining arguments, we conclude that the
rule does not effect an unconstitutional taking and is neither arbitrary nor
capricious. We therefore reject Verizon's challenge to the data roaming

Had Verizon won, it would have had to wait a while to
benefit. Aspart of its approval of Verizon's purchase of wireless spectrum from cable
operators, Verizon agreed to abide by the FCC's data roaming mandate even if
the court had thrown it out.

"This unanimous decision confirms the FCC's authority to promote broadband competition and protect broadband consumers," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a statement. "Our rules have empowered consumers and expanded their ability to enjoy the benefits of seamless and nationwide access to mobile data services, including wireless Internet and e-mail.  Enacting data roaming rules is one of many strong actions the FCC has taken in this area, and we will continue to promote broadband investment and innovation."

Public Knowledge, which supported the FCC in an amicus
brief, praised the decision.

"The DC Circuit's decision rightly upholds the FCC's
Data Roaming order, which extends long-standing voice roaming rules to data
services," said John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney for Public
Knowledge.  "The FCC's order protects
consumers by allowing smaller wireless carriers to offer nationwide service,
and ensures that customers of smaller providers can travel around the country
without incurring high bills or losing service."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.