Roaming means 116K jobs, rural cell firms say

Allowing mobile broadband customers to roam onto the networks of other providers would help save or create 116,862 jobs, rural phone companies say.

That's according to a study of the potential employment impact of full broadband availability in underserved areas, released Thursday by the Rural Cellular Association (RCA). 

Voice roaming is already mandatory, but data roaming (which includes wireless broadband) is not. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is considering a data roaming requirement but has not yet acted.  

Without a data roaming requirement, rural carriers say they have trouble entering into agreements with bigger providers, allowing customers to roam onto other networks for data use. 

Making data roaming mandatory could help increase mobile broadband to the countryside, according to RCA.

"The entire wireless industry, with the exception of Verizon Wireless and AT&T, agrees with the National Broadband Plan that an automatic data roaming obligation is in the public interest," said Steven Berry, president of RCA.

Berry also said that President Obama's goal of getting wireless broadband to 98 percent of the population will not be accomplished without data roaming.

Changing this policy would "ensure consumers and public safety with seamless coverage to next generation networks and service no matter where they work or live," he said.

Opponents to mandatory data roaming say this policy would take away the incentive for carriers to build out their own networks. They also say they should be able to negotiate their own roaming deals rather than the government demanding it.