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Mobile broadband Internet access is highly important to the American economy and millions of users. There were almost 200 million mobile broadband connections by the end of 2013 in the United States, far more than the number of fixed broadband connections (FCC, 2014a, Table 1). The economic activity created by the provision and usage of mobile broadband is sizeable, and has been documented at the national level (Gruber and Koutroumpis, 2011; Thompson and Garbacz, 2011; Katz, 2012) and specifically for rural areas (Whitacre, Gallardo, and Strover, 2014). The benefits of mobile broadband—and indeed the entire broadband ecosystem—depend on investment in deploying and upgrading network infrastructure by broadband providers. Thus investment in mobile wireless infrastructure plays a vitally important role in sustaining the growth of the industry and the economy. Investment is also the means by which robust facilities-based competition among mobile broadband providers develops, to the benefit of consumers who enjoy more options, greater wireless coverage, and lower prices.

The investigation here of the consequences of policy in the United States toward mobile data roaming begins in the next section with discussion of the general importance of investment in infrastructure for mobile broadband.