The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to mandate that AT&T and Verizon Wireless allow competitors to use their data networks so customers can roam for access.

The vote was 3-2 with the three Democrats on the commission in favor; the Republicans were opposed.

Roaming agreements are currently voluntary.

“The widespread availability of data roaming arrangements will allow customers with mobile data plans to remain connected when they travel outside their own provider’s network coverage areas by using another provider’s network,” the FCC said in a statement. “This promises connectivity and nationwide access to mobile data services such as e-mail and wireless broadband Internet access.”

The large carriers have to offer access at reasonable prices. The new rules are a response to consolidation in an industry dominated by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless.

Existing voice roaming rules already allow regional competitors to use the big carriers’ networks for phone calls outside of their own service territories. But smaller wireless providers say they, too, need to be able to offer nationwide data service to compete.

For more details, read Bloomberg news’ report here.

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(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)