Tensions escalated between AT&T and Sprint recently after AT&T issued a statement criticizing Sprint for entering into roaming agreements with rural carriers in Oklahoma and Kansas. Specifically, AT&T has cited two policy changes on FCC’s part that in its opinion is responsible Sprint’s move.
The first one was in relation to the end of the Home Market Rule, which basically barred carriers from establishing compulsory roaming agreements in regions they own spectrum themselves. The second is in relation to a decision last year that requires carriers to offer high speed data roaming. AT&T’s reaction on the issue is not surprising. The change in policy allows Sprint to rent out its own spectrum in the region while relying on compulsory roaming agreements with its rivals (i.e. AT&T) to serve its customers.
The second policy change further allows Sprint to use AT&T’s high speed LTE network by virtue of the first policy change. AT&T’s Senior Vice President Bob Quinn criticized Sprint’s move, terming it as an abdication of responsibility to build its own network and a “disinvestment” in its own network.
Sprint on the other hand was also swift in its reply. Sprint said that it was disappointed with AT&T’s statement but wasn’t surprised by it. The carrier went on to say that AT&T’s statement was effectively a challenge to a consumer’s right to access an alternate mobile broadband service in the U.S. Apart from AT&T, the only other carrier opposing the change in FCC’s policy is Verizon. Interestingly, Sprint as a part of its Network Vision programme has doubled investment its network from 2010, thus making it capable of upgrades which will eventually lead to a better wireless experience for its customers.
With the inclusion of these upgrades Sprint hopes to compete among national level carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T’s major argument is that Sprint already a national carrier and should invest in building its own network in areas where it has spectrum instead of entering into compulsory roaming agreements with rival carriers and piggybacking on their network infrastructure.
Sprint has flatly denied AT&T’s stand that it is scaling back infrastructure investment, but dodges the fact that Sprint is anything but a rural carrier (even though it is a member of the Rural Cellular Association) and dismisses any allegations that relate it as the primary beneficiary of FCC’s new policy on roaming regulations. This issue is probably not going to end here as AT&T is planning to appeal against this change in FCC’s policy in a district court in Washington DC.