WASHINGTON - Federal regulators adopted rules Thursday to drive more competition in wireless broadband as more people access the Internet using iPhones and other popular mobile devices.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to require big wireless carriers to open their data networks to smaller regional operators in places where they don't have their own systems.
The large carriers have to offer network access at reasonable prices, and the FCC would resolve any disputes.
The so-called data roaming rules are a response to consolidation in an industry dominated by two nationwide carriers, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless.
And they come just weeks after AT&T, the nation's second-largest wireless company, announced plans to buy T-Mobile USA, the fourth-largest, in a $39 billion cash-and-stock deal.
Existing voice roaming rules already allow regional competitors to use the big carriers' networks to handle phone calls outside their own service territories.
That enables Leap Wireless, for instance, to offer nationwide calling service. Leap Wireless pays other carriers for access to their systems when customers make calls outside Leap's service area.
But smaller wireless providers say they need to be able to do that with data, too, as subscribers increasingly use smartphones not just to make phone calls but to send pictures, watch online video and access bandwidth-hungry mobile applications.
"Consumers ... expect to use their mobile phones throughout the nation for voice calls or data - like email or mobile apps," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat.
Parul Desai, policy counsel for the consumer watchdog group Consumers Union, said the new rules should help lower prices by giving consumers more choices for nationwide data services.
by Joelle Tessler Associated Press Apr. 8, 2011 12:00 AM
FCC rules aim to spur wireless-broadband competition
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