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AT&T bashes Sprint for using roaming agreements and ‘disinvesting’ in its own network [updated]

Updated Dec 19th, 2018 7:43PM EST

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AT&T’s Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory and Chief Privacy Officer Bob Quinn recently wrote a post on the company’s blog that called Sprint out for deciding to use roaming agreements, and “disinvesting” in its own network in Kansas and Oklahoma instead of providing customers with access to its network. As it turns out, the Federal Communications Commission originally prevented carriers, under the Home Market Rule, from creating roaming agreements when they had the spectrum or the ability to use their own networks. However, as Quinn explains, the rule was overturned in 2010 and is currently undergoing an appeals process.

Post updated below with a comment from a Sprint spokesperson.

So what makes AT&T so mad about Sprint’s decision to use someone else’s network? AT&T doesn’t think the decision makes any sense; Sprint argued the move was made in an effort to cut costs and focus on its smartphone users, but AT&T thinks Sprint should follow in AT&T and Verizon’s footsteps and focus on building out its network capacity instead.

“I mean, at AT&T we have spent a lot of time and money investing in recent years racing to keep up with our subscribers’ surging broadband demands precisely because those demands are growing so rapidly,” Quinn wrote. “Verizon has been doing the same in building its own 4G LTE network. But at Sprint, the logic is different, and investment – Sprint investment – does not appear to be the solution. My guess is that Kansas and Oklahoma represent the tip of tip of the iceberg here. Does this represent the beginning of Sprint’s Disappearing Network Vision? Will this disinvestment story go nationwide and appear in your local paper soon?”

Quinn also appears to have some issues with the FCC, which allowed Sprint to make the changes in the first place. “We remain hopeful that the Court will reject the FCC’s market intervention here and realize that this regulation actually disincents investment by everyone in the marketplace at a time when promoting investment and job growth should be priority #1 for every policymaker in this country,” Quinn said.

UPDATE: Sprint spokesman John Taylor posted the following response in the comments section of this post:

AT&T has it facts wrong.

Sprint hasn’t moved any customers off of its network. These customers in certain rural areas of Oklahoma and Kansas were long served by a roaming partner. The change Sprint announced simply notified customers of that fact.

Roaming agreements benefit consumers because carriers can extend their network footprints. They also benefit carriers, even AT&T.

AT&T, for its part has more unused spectrum than any other carrier in the country. They’ve also under invested in the AT&T network on a per subscriber basis when compared to the rest of the industry by a wide margin. That’s what makes the criticism from AT&T’s lobbyist especially rich.

For many years, the FCC has required wireless carriers to negotiate “just and reasonable” rates for voice roaming — now it is requiring the same for data roaming. For consumers, this means you can check email, surf the Net and use other data services wherever you travel in the U.S.

That’s why the entire wireless industry, with the exception of AT&T and Verizon, supports the FCC’s move.

High data roaming prices may benefit AT&T and Verizon shareholders, but they’re bad for consumers and competition.

John Taylor
Public Affairs