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Verizon, MetroPCS Spar on LTE Roaming Claims

Fri, 05/18/2012 - 7:25am
Maisie Ramsay

Verizon Wireless is again going on offense against critics of the AWS deal, this time targeting MetroPCS.

In a document posted Thursday afternoon to the FCC's website, the operator rebutted MetroPCS’ claims that it has been unwilling to negotiate roaming agreements.

According to Verizon, it had been "engaged in roaming discussions" about EV-DO data roaming with MetroPCS since late last year and exchanged rate proposals with the company last November. 

Verizon said it also offered to extend the negotiations to include talk of an LTE roaming agreement. But MetroPCS waited "until this week" to respond after Verizon sent the prepaid provider a revised offer in February to try to continue discussions, it said.

"It appears that MetroPCS has decided to try to wring conditions out of the regulatory process rather than negotiate commercial arrangements," Verizon said. 

A MetroPCS spokesman declined to comment specifically on Verizon's claims, saying only that it is "continually in talks with existing and potential partners with regards to CDMA and LTE roaming agreements." 

MetroPCS has repeatedly claimed that Verizon will not offer data roaming with "commercially reasonable rates" in documents outlining its opposition to Verizon's AWS purchase. It claims the transaction would exacerbate Verizon's unwillingness to enter into data roaming agreements.

In an April 26 ex parte filing, MetroPCS said "allowing Verizon to add to its warehouse of spectrum will eliminate one of its few remaining incentives to enter into commercially reasonable roaming agreements... if the transactions are approved, the commission must act to ensure that Verizon offers commercially reasonable roaming rates."  

Defending its roaming record is part of Verizon's broader strategy to convince the FCC to approve its purchase of nationwide AWS spectrum from cable operators Comcast, Cox Communications, Bright House Networks and Time Warner Cable. The spectrum sale has been met by vocal opposition from smaller operators who say it would consolidate too many licenses with a single provider to the detriment of the broader wireless industry.

The FCC recently pushed out its review of the transaction for three weeks because of delays in producing documents. Verizon now expects the deal to close in late summer. 

MetroPCS' LTE footprint is considerably smaller than Verizon's and it is running the service on a narrower swath of spectrum. An LTE roaming contract with Verizon could allow MetroPCS to offer broader coverage.  

However, there could be technical complications to such an arrangement, as devices would have to be compatible with both MetroPCS LTE service, operating mainly in the AWS band, and Verizon's LTE service in the 700 MHz band. Notably, Verizon plans to use the AWS spectrum it is in the process of buying to supplement its LTE network.

There are currently no LTE roaming agreements between any U.S. operators except for those Verizon has forged with regional providers through its rural LTE program.  

MetroPCS' LTE network will cover up to 104 million people when it finishes construction during the third quarter, President and COO Tom Keys said at an investor conference yesterday. By comparison, Verizon's LTE network currently covers more than 200 million people and it plans to add more than 140 new markets over the next seven months. 

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