Sprint stirred up trouble last week when it made the unprecedented move of advising customers that it would be reducing its coverage area in Kansas and Oklahoma and relying more heavily on roaming agreements to support service in those areas.
The areas affected are largely outside of metro areas. A Sprint spokesman told NewsOK.com, a local media outlet that the move was a cost-cutting measure. Sprint also noted that most customer plans already include roaming, which means they aren’t likely to incur additional charges. But the company also noted that customers may be unable to access some voice and data services such as Sprint Mobile to Mobile and Any Mobile, Any Time and that they may experience a slower overall data speed when roaming.
The slower data rates most likely will result in areas where Sprint previously offered 3G data service but only slower data services will be available through roaming agreements. One Sprint customer already emailed Telecompetitor to tell us he was not happy about the changes. And customers aren’t the only ones who are unhappy.
In a blog post, AT&T executive Bob Quinn noted that Sprint would not have been able to make this move prior to 2010 when the FCC eliminated the Home Market Rule from roaming requirements. As Quinn explained, the logic behind that rule was that “if a carrier owned spectrum, it was good public policy to require them to build out that spectrum and therefore they should not be able to demand roaming from other carriers in those home markets.”
Quinn seems to have a good point there—although it doesn’t exactly apply to Sprint in this case because Sprint already has a network in the areas in question. That’s what makes Sprint’s move such a strange one. If it already invested to build the infrastructure, I question how much money it can really save by shutting it down, especially when you factor in the customer defections the company is likely to incur.
I’m wondering if Sprint deliberately made these moves at the backdoor of its own Overland Park, Kansas headquarters so the company could more easily keep tabs on what transpires—perhaps with the goal of minimizing future 4G infrastructure investment by relying more broadly on roaming moving forward.
Quinn’s blog post includes a map indicating Sprint’s previous and new coverage areas, including areas where it will operate its own network and areas where it will rely on roaming.