Despite the sky-rocketing demand for more and better wireless connectivity, American consumers’ choice of devices and network providers continues to be dominated by a duopoly. Many of us rely on these products to help us with our work, to learn, and to stay in touch with our family and friends. More than 100 wireless providers across the country have shown that reliable services, coverage and competitive costs can come from carriers other than those currently controlling most of the nation’s prime broadband spectrum. These smaller, innovative carriers not only provide critical connectivity to consumers residing in rural areas, they also deliver customized wireless services and devices to niche communities.
Hundreds of local towns and communities depend upon these providers for emergency communications, and countless numbers of businesses rely on them daily for remote transactions. For many underserved parts of our country, wireless services provided by competitive carriers keep communities from turning into ghost towns.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer competitive carriers have access to spectrum, the key ingredient fueling competition, innovation and consumer choice in those capabilities. Not only does this threaten the viability of hundreds of regional and rural providers, but it also means American consumers will suffer from fewer choices, escalating cell phone bills and roaming costs. In fact, we learned this week that one more value-priced carrier will be eliminated from the market.
For the wireless industry to continue to innovate, grow and provide mobile broadband service, competition must be restored. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should take bold steps to level the playing field and provide rural and regional wireless operators with a fighting chance to provide competitive, nationwide 4G services.
Competitive carriers and consumers have plenty to be optimistic about with the FCC’s leadership of Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn. Not only has she championed competitive policies that would provide consumers in rural and regional markets with greater access to more 4G/LTE options, but she has also been a strong advocate for unleashing more spectrum for mobile broadband.
In an industry that has been deemed “highly concentrated” under DOJ guidelines, the march toward a duopoly is taking control of the wireless handset market and frustrating the FCC’s roaming policy by imposing unwarranted technical and economic barriers to interoperability in the 700 MHz band.
In addition to expediting action to restore interoperability to the Lower 700 MHz band, the current FCC can help increasingly disenfranchised consumers throughout the country by ensuring smaller carriers have an opportunity to provide customers with access to high-quality spectrum. Ensuring broad participation in spectrum auctions by completing its mobile spectrum holdings proceeding is one such step.
Identifying any and all spectrum that could be rapidly commercialized would be another huge step. For instance, the Commission could move forward with proceedings related to wholesale-only operators such as LightSquared, which through its business model would provide another way for smaller and regional carriers to offer high-speed service capable of competing in today’s marketplace.
That kind of wholesale-only business model of a nationwide 4G network would help address some of the most vexing problems facing competitive mobile carriers and their customers. To significantly advance the FCC goal of promoting much-needed competition in the wireless market, it is crucial that the Commission acts on these opportunities without further delay.
No amount of advertising or lobbying can change the fact that competition in the wireless industry is better for consumers. It really isn’t that complicated.