Small and medium-sized carriers join forces to combat AT&T and Verizon

The Rural Cellular Association has officially changed its name to the Competitive Carriers Association, embracing the rather awkward reality that distinctly non-rural operators like Sprint(s s), T-Mobile and MetroPCS(s pcs) now make up its membership. The battle lines were drawn a long time ago, but now the lineup is official: it’s AT&T(s t) and Verizon(s vz)(s vod) against the rest of the US mobile industry.

CCA President and CEO Steve Berry said the organization isn’t abandoning its rural carrier roots, rather it’s acknowledging the new reality: that big nationwide operators like Sprint and T-Mobile have more in common with their tiny regional counterparts than they do with the country’s two wireless superpowers. The sum of the subscribers supported by the RCA’s members is about 100 million, which is pretty much the size of either Ma Bell or Big Red individually.

Sprint and T-Mobile won’t be able to dominate the organization, Berry said. “We are one carrier, one vote, and we have a board that reflects our composition,” Berry said. And conflicts between the big and small contingencies should be minimal given how their interests are now closely aligned, Berry said. They share the common goals of ensuring equal access to new 4G spectrum, interoperability between the bands, and mutually beneficial roaming agreements, he said.

So why now? Verizon and AT&T have long been the dominant carriers in the industry.

Berry said the differences between AT&T and Verizon and the rest of the market became most pronounced in recent years as acquisitions swelled their size. Verizon’s 2009 purchase of Alltel eliminated the single largest regional operator in the US, but it was AT&T’s attempted purchase of T-Mobile that really rallied the remaining wireless carriers against the Big 2. In an interview last year, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse said that the merger attempt woke the industry up regarding the “gradual creep toward becoming a duopoly.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock user Everett Collection