The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the FCC's data roaming order in a ruling today, rejecting Verizon Wireless' attempt to overturn the agency's authority. Verizon Wireless argued that the FCC overstepped its power last year when it passed data roaming rules that require Verizon and AT&T to let smaller carriers use their networks under reasonable commercial agreements. Both Verizon and AT&T attacked the rule after it took effect; in February, AT&T went directly to Congress, supporting a bill that would have gutted the FCC's authority in several areas, including its ability to create data roaming requirements for major carriers. AT&T also went after its rivals, accusing Sprint of "massive disinvestment" in its own network as a result of its statutory ability to ride the networks of competitors. But many groups, including the FCC (and now a US appeals court), aren't buying those arguments.
"This unanimous decision confirms the FCC's authority."
In a statement provided to The Verge, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski praises the ruling, writing that "this unanimous decision confirms the FCC's authority to promote broadband competition and protect broadband consumers." He writes that "our rules have empowered consumers and expanded their ability to enjoy the benefits of seamless and nationwide access to mobile data services." Genachowski calls the FCC's data roaming rules "one of many strong actions" the agency has taken, and says there's more to come — echoing confidence expressed earlier this year when he defended his role as a "cop on the beat."
Digital advocates are also pleased by the ruling. In a statement, Public Knowledge claims that the decision "is a win for wireless users," and writes that it "rightly upholds the FCC's data roaming order, which extends long-standing voice roaming rules to data services." Public Knowledge senior attorney John Bergmayer writes that "the court firmly rejected Verizon's many baseless challenges to the FCC's authority," and that the ruling "may indicate that courts are casting a more skeptical eye on telecommunications companies' endless challenges to the FCC's ability to carry out its job." Of course, even if Bergmayer is right about a new wave of judicial skepticism, a few court rulings aren't likely to stop Verizon and AT&T from making their case in other venues; neither wireless giant suffers a lack of motivation to undermine the FCC's power, and there's a whole new class of lawmakers to educate in 2013.