FCC to Push for Uniform Roaming Standards

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ccaconv16_340x100-1FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and CCA can trace their roots back to 1992 when Wheeler started as the head of CTIA and CCA first began.  Wheeler opened the annual CCA Convention yesterday in Seattle saying the federal agency is “pursuing an aggressive agenda to seize the opportunities of mobile for rural America.

Steven Berry, the President & CEO of CCA concurred: “I agree with the Chairman’s observation that competition is the key to ensuring a robust mobile wireless marketplace for all consumers.  CCA looks forward to continued work with the Commission to ‘form a united front for our mobile future.’”

“CCA started out as nine rural and regional carriers,” Wheeler said.  “A commitment to rural America is in your DNA. Accordingly, promoting world-leading wireless connectivity for rural America will be our focus today.”

In the 2015 Open Internet Order, the Commission committed to revisiting data roaming obligations of mobile providers.CCA has been vocal in holding the Commission to its word, Wheeler said, and has called on the FCC to apply uniform roaming standards across voice and data services. “We’ve heard you, and we’re ready to act,” Wheeler said.  “Before the end of the year, I plan to call on my fellow Commissioners to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Commission’s data roaming framework.” 

“Roaming agreements have made it possible for smaller providers – particularly in rural areas – to do business. The Commission’s 2011 data roaming Order was, at that time, a significant step to preserve roaming for the internet age, but our roaming rules are already due for a fresh look,” he said.

“We welcome the Chairman’s invitation to get this right,” Berry said. “In addition to USF, another leg of the competitive stool is the ability for consumers to connect wherever they work, live or travel. CCA is pleased the Chairman has committed to fixing the broken Business Data Services market by the year’s end. This proceeding has languished for over 12 years, 4,280 days and now is the time to complete it as carriers begin to deploy next generation networks,” he said.

Twice a year, the FCC requires mobile carriers to submit Form 477, which contains network coverage data allowing the Commission to create a significantly more detailed picture of actual wireless coverage within the census block.

“By the end of this month, we expect to release an analysis of this 477 data,” Wheeler said. “You’ll have to wait for all the details, but I can share some of the headline findings. The main takeaway is that there is a clear need for the Mobility Fund.”

The data confirms what everyone knew from experience – that significant LTE coverage gaps still exist throughout America. Excluding Alaska, 11 percent of the nation’s road miles have no 4G LTE coverage at all, including no subsidized coverage.

“But let’s be clear,” Wheeler said, “the FCC’s mandate is to support service where there is none, and diverting dollars from that purpose is not in the long-term public interest.”

The second key component of the Commission’s strategy, according to Wheeler, is fostering competitive provision of infrastructure, specifically backhaul.  Regardless of the spectrum allocation, Wheeler said 5G will require a lot more cells, particularly at the higher frequencies. “These small cell sites will need to be connected, so we’ll need a lot more backhaul,” he said.

“But backhaul isn’t just about 5G,” Wheeler said.  “If there is going to be universal wireless coverage, there needs to be fair access to backhaul. In many areas, competition in the supply of backhaul remains limited, and that can translate into higher costs for wireless networks, higher prices for consumers, and an adverse impact on competition.”

In a recent study, CCA found that backhaul accounts for about one-third of cell site operating costs.

“Before the end of this year, I will present the Commission with a reform proposal that will tackle this issue and encourage innovation and investment in what we now call Business Data Services, while ensuring that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold back wireless coverage,” Wheeler said.

One of the largest challenges facing the industry is siting, according to the FCC Chairman.  Estimates reported in a recent Inside Towers article are that 5G will require a 10x growth in cell sites, and potentially significantly more. “That’s hundreds of thousands of siting decisions,” Wheeler said. “Which raises a key question: how can we work with siting authorities to allow the plethora of antennas that will be required quickly and at a reasonable cost?”

“We will be unsuccessful in dealing with NIMBYism and the recalcitrance of local authorities if all we talk about is engineering,” he said. “We have to help leaders at the local level – and all levels for that matter – understand that 5G will make the Internet of Things real. But even talking about IoT is too obtuse.”

Wheeler said to extoll the benefits of smart-city energy grids, safer transportation networks, and new opportunities to improve health care. “Let’s paint the picture of how 5G will unleash immersive education and entertainment industries, and how 5G will unlock new ways for local employers to grow, whether it’s a small specialty shop or a large factory, creating new jobs and improving services for the community,” he said.  “The bottom line is that there is a roadmap to chart both our path to ubiquitous wireless LTE and to our 5G future. Now is the time to make it happen.”

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