FCC: Mobile Wireless Market Highly Concentrated

Speeds, Data Allowances Gain, but AT&T, Verizon Dominate

The FCC's Wireless Bureau Thursday released its annual report on how competition in the mobile wireless industry, as well as a declaratory ruling on the commercially reasonable standard for data roaming agreements -- the standard a court advised the FCC it could apply to discrimination in new network neutrality rules.

The fact that both those were issues at the bureau level, rather than voted on by the full commission, did not sit well with the two Republican commissioners.

Though the report does not make a finding about whether or not the marketplace is effectively competitive, given that there is no agreed-on definition of the same, it does say: "The mobile wireless marketplace continues to be highly concentrated: The top two providers – Verizon and AT&T – had almost 70% of nationwide market share and total service," the 17th edition of the report, covering 2013 and much of 2014, concludes.

IT also finds that mobile broadband speeds are increasing, LTE (next-generation mobile) coverage is growing, data allowances are increasing and subscriptions and revenues are growing.

The FCC has been attempting to boost that competition, including through bidding rules on its AWS-3 auction and upcoming broadcast incentive auction.

"Commissioner [Michael] O’Rielly and I jointly requested that the items be brought before the commission for a simple up or down vote, consistent with both the law and the long-standing practice of both Republican and Democratic FCC chairmen," said Commissioner Ajit Pai in a statement. "The chairman’s office refused. I am not aware of a situation in which similar requests from two commissioners for a Commission-level vote has been rejected (the usual course is to accommodate even one request). Bad enough as the refusal to negotiate with other commissioners (not just Republicans) is, it’s even worse not to allow other offices any input whatsoever...I didn’t just go through the confirmation process in order to have bureaus and advisory committees make decisions that should be made by commissioners.

CTIA: The Wireless Association drew its own conclusion from the report, which was: "America’s wireless users enjoy a variety of choices, from carriers to service plans to devices. According to both the FCC’s report released today and more recent figures on the competitive landscape of America’s wireless industry, 97 percent of Americans may choose from at least three different carriers while a previous report said only 15 percent of wired users may choose from at least three different providers."

It used the report to argue against imposing Title II regulations on mobile broadband.

“Today’s report only adds to the substantial evidence that the mobile broadband industry delivers for consumers and should continue to be subject to a mobile-specific Title I approach, which resulted in billions of investment annually, significant new options for consumers throughout the mobile ecosystem and carriers constantly differentiating themselves with new service plans and offerings," CTIA said.