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8/28/2009
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FCC Probes Wireless Industry Competition

With inquiries into spectrum availability and consumer protections, the Federal Communications Commission assumes a bigger role in shaping the framework for mobile networks.

The Federal Communications Commission will be taking a harder look at the wireless industry in an attempt to increase competition and innovation, as well as strengthen consumer protection.

The government agency launched a Notice of Inquiry Thursday that seeks to identify a framework for analyzing wireless investments and innovation. This framework would then be used as a base of knowledge by the FCC when it is considering future regulation of the industry. The inquiry will also look at spectrum availability and utilization, as well as how the wireless space can help markets such as health care, education, energy, and public safety.

The FCC launched a separate NOI regarding consumer protection in the wireless world. Traditionally, the agency focused on the format of billing, but this inquiry will address provider competition, choosing a service plan, management of service plans, and the ease of switching providers. The inquiry will examine wireline and wireless voice services, as well as subscription video and broadband.

"We are now in the midst of a transition from reliance on mobile voice services to increasing use of and reliance on mobile broadband services, which promise to connect American citizens in new and profound ways," the FCC said in a statement. "A robustly competitive mobile wireless market will be essential to realizing the full benefits to American consumers and channeling investments into vitally important national infrastructure."

These probes will likely lead to increased scrutiny for AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless, but smaller carriers such as Alltel and U.S. Cellular will also be examined. This is just the latest intervention in the wireless industry, as the government agency is trying to take a bigger role in the future of mobile networks.

The FCC recently launched a review of handset exclusivity, an issue that has been picking up steam due to the agreement between AT&T and Apple for the iPhone. This seems to have already achieved results, as Verizon announced smaller carriers could sell devices it has exclusivity access to after a period that would last no longer than six months.

The government agency also investigated the reasons why Apple would not allow the Google Voice calling service in its App Store. In its response, Apple said it withheld the program due to privacy concerns, and because the service replaced core aspects of the iPhone's calling functionality.


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