Comments submitted this week in response to an FCC request for information to be used in the agency’s upcoming twentieth report to Congress on the competitive state of the U.S wireless market are calling for an affirmative (or negative) conclusion of competition for the first time in eight years. Those comments also recommended regulatory and other steps the FCC can take to foster a competitive environment. As in the preceding six years, the FCC declined to issue a finding in its nineteenth annual report as to whether the U.S. wireless market is sufficiently competitive. Over the objections of then-FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and his Republican colleague, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, that report was also approved and released by the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau instead of by the full Commission.
Urging the FCC to reverse its policy of recent years and “formally recognize that the mobile wireless market is effectively competitive,” wireless association CTIA asserted that the U.S. wireless market “continues to flourish and is generating unprecedented benefits for consumers.” CTIA also cited Pai’s own pronouncement that the U.S. marketplace “is ‘extremely competitive [and] delivering unparalleled value to American consumers’” as evidenced by “high consumer demand” and “competition among providers” which “is driving furious activity to make wireless faster and better.”
Like CTIA, AT&T argued that the FCC “should now affirmatively acknowledge what is obvious to everyone else: the marketplace is ‘effectively competitive.’” Pointing to “the telltale signs of a competitive market,” which include falling prices, rising usage and “robust investment,” Verizon Wireless declared in its filing: “it’s long past time to return to an objective analysis of the facts and acknowledge that the dynamic U.S. mobile wireless marketplace is effectively competitive.” As it concurred with the views of Verizon, AT&T and other industry players, the Free State Foundation also called on the FCC to “align its wireless policies with the market’s effectively competitive conditions by removing harmful regulations, rejecting new controls, and promoting infrastructure investment.”
Competitive carriers and their supporters, however, offered an alternative view. Arguing, “competition is not present nationwide and varies significantly by geographic location,” the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) termed it “high time the Commission makes a conclusion to that effect.” In support of that view, CCA noted that competitive carriers “serve some of the most rural and hard-to-reach areas, and their experiences validate the unfortunate reality that many parts of the country do not receive, much less have competitive choice for, mobile wireless service.” Attaching to its comments the results of its most recent annual survey, which demonstrates how its members “are doing a commendable job of providing service to their rural customers despite the often formidable challenges they face,” rural telecommunications association NTCA called on the FCC to “take the necessary steps to ensure that rural Americans are able to receive the same high-quality wireless service as their non-rural counterparts.”