Cellular South, which serves about 800,000 subscribers in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Alabama, has complained for years about industry dominance by major wireless carriers, particularly AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
Cellular South chief executive Hu Meena has long protested aspects of handset exclusivity, an issue that is under review by the Federal Communications Commission. The large carriers often are able to offer the hottest mobile phones on an exclusive basis for initial periods of time. For instance, in the U.S. AT&T has had the exclusive right to offer Apple's hit iPhone for more than two years. Other major carriers have been able to offer some high-demand handsets on an exclusive basis for shorter periods.
"We take a simplistic view of this industry," Meena said in an interview in the Washington Post. "We believe consumers should pick any device they want, put on any network they choose, and access any lawful content they are interested in."
He continued, "Forty-six of the top 50 devices are under exclusivity. So as far as consumers are concerned, there is a monopoly for 46 of top 50 devices. So if you are a small carrier and can't get hold of those devices because they are under exclusive contract with a carrier, that means you can't compete."
As for the CTIA, it maintains the mobile phone industry is a thriving competitive market and notes there are more than 180 companies providing wireless service in the U.S., including the four national carriers and 12 regional companies each serving more than 500,000 customers. Another 160 companies serve from under 500,000 customers to as few as 300 customers.
In a policy statement, the CTIA has said, "In many markets, rural consumers can choose between 30 to more than 100 service plans, offering rural consumers a host of features and different pricing options, from prepaid to big bucket plans."
The FCC has been studying competition in the wireless industry and Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) has a spearheaded a campaign to investigate the issue.