For the sixth year in a row, the FCC has delivered an annual report to Congress on the competitive state of the U.S. wireless market that declines to conclude whether or not the market is competitive. The report instead provides “an analysis and description of the [commercial mobile radio service] industry’s competitive metrics and trends.”
As stated by the FCC, the agency’s 19th Annual Report and Analysis of Competitive Market Conditions With Respect to Mobile Wireless “complies with the statutory requirements for analyzing competitive market conditions with respect to commercial mobile services.” Approved and issued last Friday by the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the report assesses industry data for the 2015 calendar year. Based on current data and on trends over previous years, the report notes “we have seen further increased consolidation” which has resulted in the top four national wireless carriers amassing “approximately 98% of the nation’s mobile wireless service revenue, up from approximately 93% in 2012.” During 2015, the top two national carriers, AT&T and Verizon, together accounted for 71% of U.S. industry revenues. By contrast, the top two regional carriers, US Cellular and NTELOS, accounted for 1.8% and 0.2% of total market revenues, respectively.
Despite this level of market consolidation, the report depicts service to nearly the entire U.S. population by each of the four national carriers, which were found to have achieved facilities-based coverage of more than 92% of the country. Report data shows that nearly 99% of the U.S. populace has the ability to choose from two or more providers of fourth-generation LTE service. Nearly 96% of the population has the ability to choose from three or more LTE providers, and 89% is able to choose from at least four LTE providers. Citing the “complexity of the various interrelated segments and services within the mobile wireless ecosystem,” the report specifies that it “does not reach an overall conclusion or formal finding regarding whether or not the . . . marketplace is effectively competitive.”
Undeterred by the FCC’s refusal to issue a competitive pronouncement, a spokesman for wireless association CTIA stated his own conclusion on behalf of the industry, asserting that “consumers today enjoy unparalleled choice among wireless providers, service plans and devices.” Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) President Steve Berry maintained, however, that the report “affirms CCA’s analysis that the mobile marketplace cannot be considered effectively competitive as a result of concentrated market share.” As such, Berry called on the FCC to “enact policies that facilitate competitive opportunities” which would include prioritized access to spectrum resources and reform of the agency’s universal service fund and business data service rules.