FCC Seeks To Increase Competition in Wireless Broadband

By Tracey E. Schelmetic April 07, 2011

More competition. It's supposed to be good for free markets and consumer choice, driving down prices and driving up quality. There doesn't seem to be a lot of competition or choice to be had nowadays, particularly in consumer telecom products. Even less of it since wireless provider T-Mobile is to be purchased by AT&T (pending approval), leaving the U.S. with only three major wireless providers: AT&T in first place, Verizon in second and Sprint bringing up the rear.

The Federal government appears to be aware of the problem, if today's actions are any indication. Federal regulators have adopted rules to drive more competition in wireless broadband as more and more consumers access the Internet using iPhones and other sophisticated mobile devices, according to the Associated Press today.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 on Thursday to require big wireless carriers to open their data networks to smaller regional operators where they don't have their own systems. The large carriers have to offer access at reasonable prices. The new rules are a direct response to the consolidation of the wireless carriers and the subsequent domination of the top two, AT&T and Verizon.

“Roaming obligations have helped fuel competition, investment and consumer choice in America’s wireless marketplace since the first cellular voice service in 1981,” said the FCC's Julius Genachowski in a statement. “Today, we take a vital step to update this framework for the 21st century, as Americans increasingly use their mobile devices for data as well as voice,” he said.

“The framework we adopt today will spur investment in mobile broadband and promote competition, It will ensure that rural and urban consumers have the ability they expect to use their mobile phones throughout the nation for voice calls or data—like email or mobile apps,” noted Genachowski.

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 need to be able to offer nationwide data service in order to be able to compete with the big boys. The ruling should improve wireless voice and data coverage in rural parts of the U.S., as well.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Janice McDuffee

TechZone360 Contributor

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