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Regulators open inquiry into wireless industry
Thu Aug 27, 2009 3:19pm EDT
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By John Poirier
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators launched an inquiry on Thursday into competition in the wireless industry, a step that could lead to probes of other sectors.
The Federal Communications Commission issued a notice of inquiry as part of a congressionally mandated annual assessment of the industry, which is dominated by Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG.
Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.
The inquiry comes as the FCC is examining exclusive deals between handset makers and carriers, such the one making AT&T the sole U.S. service provider for Apple Inc's popular iPhone.
Exclusive deals are common among the biggest carriers but have recently faced strong opposition from rural carriers, which say they lack the clout to make deals to carry the most popular phones.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the agency is seeking data on how competition affects consumers. He also said the wireless inquiry could lay the foundation for future questions in other sectors such as cable and broadband.
"I hope the new wireless competition report will help set a standard for fact-based, analytically deep analysis of the mobile industry," Genachowski, a Democrat, said during an open meeting with a full slate of commissioners.
"It is essential that the commission develop policies that encourage a new generation of innovators, working with new tools, on new platforms, and having an extraordinary impact on our economy and society," he said.
The five FCC commissioners also voted unanimously in favor of issuing a separate inquiry into how the agency can help spur innovation and investment across the wireless sector, focusing on spectrum, networks, devices, applications and business models.
The agency also wants to examine if current conditions in the wireless market allow for new entrants.
The comment period for both initiatives is 30 days, with another 15 days for replies from the FCC.
The commissioners issued a third inquiry, into billing practices by communications service providers such as phone, Internet and cable companies. The public comment period for that inquiry is 45 days, with another 15 days for FCC replies.
CELL PHONE MARKET CONTROL
Senator Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust, competition policy and consumer rights, welcomed the FCC inquiry into competition in wireless. He said the four national carriers control about 90 percent of the cell phone market, and AT&T and Verizon combined control 60 percent.
"Strong competition in this market is the only way to ensure that consumers in all parts of the country have access to innovative products and services at fair prices," he said. Continued...
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