GAO: FCC Needs To Drill Down On Wireless Competition Data

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The Government Accountability Office has recommended that the Federal Communications Commission start collecting more and more detailed information about the wireless industry so it can better determine how competitive it is.
In a copy of the report released Thursday, GAO framed its recommendation as more of a suggestion than a directive, saying the FCC should "assess whether expanding original data collection of wireless industry inputs and outputs-such as prices, special access rates, capital expenditures, and equipment costs-would help the Commission better satisfy its requirement to review competitive market conditions with respect to commercial mobile services."

That conclusion was driven in part by concerns about better understanding the impacts of consolidation, both positive and negative. The report found, for example, that the four largest carriers, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, have more than 90% of the wireless customers. It also found that since 2000, consumers have seen lower prices and better coverage.

According to GAO, the FCC took no official position on the recommendations in the report, which was requested by Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), and committee members Sens. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

In a statement on the report, Rockefeller lauded those benefits, but said he was still concerned about access to rural areas and early termination fees he said "unfairly" prevent customers from switching providers.
"This report will help Congess reevaluate the wireless impact on Internet access and the impact of the current regulatory framework on wireless services," added Wyden.

For its part, the FCC has already created a consumer task force, whose first action last January was to seek information from those top carriers on how they inform consumers about the fees, which wireless companies opint out are tied to term contracts whose lower equipment and access prices are based on a commitment to a long-term rather than a month-to-month contract. Those term contracts promote broadband deployment, Verizon for one has argued, by lowering the up-front costs to consumers.

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