Consumers Union, Others Urge FCC to Gather it own Data on Wireless Competitiveness

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October 1, 2009
For Immediate Release

Consumers Union and Other Public Interest Groups Urge FCC to its own Data on Wireless Competitiveness

WASHINGTON, DC — A coalition of public interest organizations has submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission, warning the agency about the lack of effective competition in the nation’s mobile wireless marketplace. 

The commenters – including Media Access Project (MAP), Free Press, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, New America Foundation, and Public Knowledge – asked the Commission to gather and analyze its own data on wireless competition rather than relying on third party sources, to increase its understanding of the market.

The coalition’s comments were submitted in response to the Commission’s Notice of Inquiry seeking additional data on the mobile services that customers and businesses purchase.  The Commission also asked for data on tools and product inputs that wireless carriers use themselves in order to provide service to their own customers – things such as roaming agreements and networks that are used to carry wireless traffic – and on the companies that use mobile services to deliver voice services, apps, and other products to cellphone users.

The Notice of Inquiry is one of several such notices released by the Commission in conjunction with its development of a National Broadband Plan.

The commenters suggested that the Commission gather additional information on what actually happens in the mobile wireless marketplace, explaining that simply counting the number of providers in a particular city or rural area does not demonstrate whether or not consumers are getting a good deal.

The commenters asked the Commission to collect granular data on prices, terms, and conditions offered to mobile wireless customers in specific geographic areas.  They also suggested that the Commission collect new data on telecommunications market features and devices such as special access service, roaming obligations, handset exclusivity arrangements, and look at other restrictions on consumer use of mobile devices and applications.

Cell phones have become essential to everyone living in this country. However the costs associated with cell phone use are growing quickly, while the number of providers is contracting. “As more Americans are ‘cutting the cord’ and switching from wired to wireless services, increasing consolidation has lead to increasing costs that are reaching deep into the pocketbooks of the vast majority of American consumers,” said Joel Kelsey, policy analyst with Consumers Union.

“MAP agrees with the Commission’s suggestion to expand the framework for analyzing competition in today’s dynamic mobile wireless ecosystem, “ said Matt Wood, MAP’s associate director. “The mobile wireless market is not effectively competitive today.  Collecting this data will help to ensure a more effective marketplace, as well as  better access to the services, applications, and content that citizens want and need to participate fully in today’s broadband-dependent economy and society.”

“By looking at a broader range of wireless competition issues such as investment, prices, roaming agreements, special access and other factors, we believe the anti-consumer and anti-competitive practices in the wireless industry will become even more clear,” said Chris Riley, policy counsel at Free Press. “As we show in our comments, at a time when the wireless industry should be aggressively growing, carriers are investing less and less as a percentage of their revenue.”

“Consumers today are faced with a mobile marketplace that lacks competition and choice.  We are pleased that the FCC is taking a deeper look into the problems of the wireless industry, and we hope this investigation will help the FCC develop policymaking that protects the public interest,” he said.

CONTACT: Joel Kelsey or David Butler, CU, (202) 462-6262