U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Kerry (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski today urging the commission to establish clear rules on data roaming to encourage small and large wireless carriers to promote wireless competition and improve service to rural areas. Large wireless carriers currently lack the incentive to improve rural services because the future of data-roaming requirements is uncertain. Small wireless carriers are also unwilling or unable to expand their infrastructures in response to large carriers that either decline to offer data roaming or allow volatile fluctuations in its price.
"By establishing clear rules on data roaming, the FCC can help provide certainty to both large and small wireless providers," the senators wrote in the letter. "We urge the FCC to ensure consumers have access to seamless data coverage and to incentivize carrier investment and innovation in wireless network services. We look forward to working with you on this issue."
Klobuchar recently wrote a letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging it to expand its oversight over in-app sales, after consumers discovered that phone companies were offering free-to-download applications but then charging users exorbitantly for other products and services once the application is launched. Apple soon after announced that it would require users to submit a password in order to make purchases on newly downloaded applications as a safeguard against unwanted charges.
Klobuchar has also worked to protect consumers from harmful billing practices such as "cramming," which occurs when a third party adds unauthorized, misleading, or deceptive charges to consumers' phone bills.
Klobuchar is a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet.
The full text of the letter is pasted below:
March 16, 2011
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Genachowski:
We write to you today about wireless broadband and data-roaming practices. Wireless data services are becoming an increasingly important part of consumers' daily lives, yet many consumers suffer from a lack of adequate wireless coverage, particularly in rural areas. To ensure that all consumers have access to wireless broadband services, we urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider rules that ensure data roaming is provided on just and reasonable terms. This will help promote competition in the wireless industry and encourage investment in the build-out of wireless data systems.
By establishing clear rules on data roaming, the FCC can help provide certainty to both large and small wireless providers. As you know, small wireless carriers in rural areas are currently unwilling or unable to expand their infrastructures due to the unavailability of data roaming or the fluctuation in the price of data roaming charged by large carriers. Similarly, large carriers have little incentive to improve rural service as long as uncertainty exists about future data-roaming requirements. This standoff shortchanges consumers and denies businesses an important communications tool.
That the FCC should consider clear rules for data roaming is bolstered by the success of its 2007 ruling on voice roaming. Under that rule -- which set up a system for negotiating voice-roaming rates -- carriers have been able to reach pro-consumer roaming agreements and exorbitant roaming charges have disappeared from phone bills. At the same time, smaller providers have been able to increase their investment in infrastructure and consumers have benefitted from more competition and better service. Now, as wireless data is quickly becoming a critical part of consumers' cell phone needs, the FCC needs to do the same for data roaming.
We urge the FCC to ensure consumers have access to seamless data coverage and to incentivize carrier investment and innovation in wireless network services. We look forward to working with you on this issue.
John F. Kerry