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Court sides with FCC over Verizon in fight over data roaming

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Verizon Wireless(s vz)(s vod) fought the Federal Communications Commission, and the FCC won -– at least for now. The U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C., has unanimously upheld the FCC’s requirements that big operators make their mobile broadband networks available to smaller players through roaming agreements.

When the FCC instituted the rules last year, Verizon protested vehemently against them, arguing they were unnecessary regulation and that carriers should be free to strike up roaming contracts with whomever they pleased. The court, however, sided with the commission and carrier groups that backed it.

After the ruling Verizon issued the following statement: “Today’s ruling upheld rules that require carriers to offer data roaming on commercially reasonable terms. 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 you might expect, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski hailed the decision, as his was one of three Democratic votes that put the rules in place. “This unanimous decision confirms the FCC’s authority to promote broadband competition and protect broadband consumers,” Genachowski said 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.”

verizon-4g-lteThe rules state that rural or regional operator that wants to get access to any of the nationwide operators’ 3G and 4G networks are guaranteed access on “commercially reasonable terms,” though they’re not very specific on what constitutes reasonable. Theoretically carriers should be able to use such roaming deals to offer nationwide data service just they use such contracts for nationwide voice service. While there may be no regulatory barriers to those deals there are certainly technology ones.

Steve Berry, CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association, said the unanimous decision from the appeals court was a good sign that the FCC’s efforts to promote more mobile competition will have backing from all corners of government.

“CCA and our members have worked long and hard to successfully prosecute the Data Roaming Order since its inception to intervening in support of the Commission before the court,” Berry said in a statement. “This is a decisive victory for consumers and an extremely positive outcome for competitive carriers and competitive policies.”

In other regulatory news, Dish Network(s dish) appears to have acquiesced to FCC pressure that set aside some of its satellite spectrum if it wants to get permission to use it for a terrestrial 4G network. FierceWireless reports that Dish is now willing to set aside 5 MHz of its total 40 MHz for a “guard band” against interference and nearby cellular spectrum. Only last month was Dish railing against the proposed limitations on its licenses.

Photo courtesy of Flickruser [steakpinball].