AT&T and the Rural Telecommunications Group are trading accusations against each other related to roaming charges.

Both organizations sent letters to the FCC last month outlining their positions.

RTG, which represents rural wireless carriers, shared both letters with Telecompetitor—and although both had substantial portions redacted for public inspection, the gist seems to be that:


Telecompetitor spoke with an RTG representative who said AT&T’s argument is based on the idea that because it is a national carrier, the entire U.S. represents a home market for the carrier when, in fact, there are many rural areas where AT&T does not have coverage.

RTG says some of its members would be willing to negotiate lower roaming fees, which typically are negotiated at the same rate for both carriers, but that AT&T has been unwilling to re-negotiate. According to RTG, AT&T is trying to reduce rural carrier revenues so that the carriers either will go out of business or will have less money available to put toward network upgrades.

AT&T did not respond to an inquiry from Telecompetitor about the dispute.


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7 thoughts on “AT&T, Rural Wireless Carriers Fight it Out at FCC Over Roaming

  1. So AT&T is now responsible for making sure another company's underlying business model is successful?? The RTG sound like the rural version of "Occupy Wall Street". If you can't attract roaming from AT&T, at a rate AT&T values and is willing to pay, then quit whining about it.

  2. Really. The whining level from rural carriers on just about anything that is not status quo is becoming laughable.

  3. Sounds like both of you work for AT&T and have no idea what really goes on in the rural areas in relation to working with AT&T and how they operate.

  4. As a resident of one of these rural markets, I have experienced this first-hand. When I was a CellularOne customer, I could roam on AT&T anywhere in the country, a great benefit since CellularOne only operates in this 3-county RSA in Oklahoma. When I switched to AT&T to avoid having to have a separate out of state plan, I found that AT&T cannot roam here on CellularOne's system. AT&T has no towers of its own here, so it is useless. This while CellularOne can roam on AT&T's system in areas (the rest of the country) where it doesn't have towers. Completely inequitable but is the fact of life in rural cellular markets, no matter if you are talking about the GSM side or CDMA side.

  5. Actually, I have never worked for AT&T..but I do have decades of experience in the wireline and wireless business in urban and rural markets. My point is that AT&T is not obligated to provide their customers with service in your particular rural area. If AT&T's customers don't like that, they will change providers. Rural companies for the same reason have to decide if they want to establish roaming agreements with other carriers outside of their service area. It is a cost of doing business. My guess is you want to charge a higher roaming rate than AT&T is willing to pay, so go back to the drawing board and figure out how you can offer a roaming rate that is attractive to AT&T. I am tired of rural companies feeling like they are entitled to expect me as an AT&T customer to pay higher rates to support your rural business. If you can't efficiently run your rural company, then you sell it to a company who can.

    1. The article mentions that RTG members would have been happy to reduce their roaming rates, provided AT&T did the same thing for customers roaming onto them. If AT&T is so efficient at doing business, they should have no problem with this.

      Also, "switch providers" isn't es easily done as said. If you're trying to find a national carrier that will roam onto a local carrier in an area that you go to every once in awhile, the search may turn up empty, or have you end up with a provider that isn't as good in your local area.

      As far as "raising my rates" goes, it wasn't too long ago that people paid roaming fees when they wanted to talk/text/surf in an area not on their chosen cellular provider's network. The situation worked well enough, until large carriers decided to start "single rate" plans, betting that their networks were large enough that users roaming would make up an inconsequential fraction of their total usage. The result was a plan that would terminate service if roaming exceeded a certain amount. These plans tended to be a bit more expensive than roaming-is-extra plans.

      Now carriers are taking away the ability to roam, while holding per-minute prices contant (the exception being unlimited plans, which are $70 or less per month now for voice-only instead of much more expensive…thank you CricKet and MetroPCS). Even if your phone supports the frequency bands and technology of a provider in an area where your own doesn't offer service, it won't roam…unless you call 911.

      The situation worsens on the data side; the only 3G roaming agreement I know of at this point is between Sprint and the former Alltel…despite the fair number of local/regional wireless networks with 3G. With 4G, the reason LightSquared is getting so many customers is that the big boys won't play with their own networks…

  6. Forget the att customers roaming on your network, ATT can always claim it is a business strategy to reduce cost. If ATT wants their customers to have areas where they can't get service that's their choice. Not crazy about it, because I would like the revenue as well. The bigger picture is getting ATT to negotiate a reasonable rate so other carriers can roam on their network. That's where they really have their talons out. If someone doesn't step in and require the larger carriers to negotiate reasonable roaming fees for the smaller guys, you will truly be left with just three or four wireless players in the market. What do you think that will do for the consumer. All the more reason ATT shouldn't be allowed to purchase T Mobile. Not only have we come full circle since the divestiture, ATT is being allowed to come back bigger than before. ATT the true Hydra of the communications business.

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