Verizon Wireless seems to have a new appreciation for the challenges of small and rural wireless carriers. Last week they announced they are relaxing handset exclusivity deals, limiting their term to six months. Now comes word, they want to revise roaming rules, which in their eyes, will help rural carriers. What’s up with all the new rural carrier love? Could it be that the Justice Department is now snooping around the telecom industry, reviewing competitive practices of conglomerates like Verizon?
Regardless of intentions, smaller carriers are somewhat unimpressed with Verizon’s new focus. Per the handset issue, the Rural Cellular Association tells Reuters, “The commitment does not go far enough to rectify the consumer and competitive harms caused by these agreements,” the group said. “More than 180 million of the nation’s wireless customers are unable to benefit from the new policy.”
On the roaming issue, Verizon is proposing to offer roaming agreements in areas where they don’t provide service for up to two years. Currently, they are not required to offer roaming agreements to smaller carriers. Roaming is a potentially lucrative source of revenue, particularly for smaller carriers. Once again, affected smaller carriers seem unimpressed. “Verizon itself has relied on roaming agreements for over two decades as it built out its network and acquired competitors, but now has unilaterally decided that its remaining competitors are only entitled to roaming for two or three years,” Leap Wireless director of government affairs, Laurie Itkin, tells Reuters.
Whatever the outcome, it does appear that the rural and smaller carriers have a window of opportunity to gain some concessions from larger carriers. Time will tell whether those concessions amount to anything of substance. I expect we’ll see more rhetoric from both sides in the coming weeks, as they attempt to maximize (or minimize, depending on perspective) their opportunity during this period of competitive focus.