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Most of you want to keep your smartphone when you switch service providers. After all, you have paid a lot of money for your phone and have customized it in a way that works for you. Having to give up your phone just because you want to switch providers is expensive and inconvenient. We at Public Knowledge, along with our friends in the public interest community, think you should have the freedom to switch providers and not be tethered to them.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is currently considering whether it should prevent the dominant carrier building a new high-speed wireless network (LTE), AT&T, from stifling the ability of smaller carriers, such as Cellular South, to acquire devices that work on this network.
The FCC proceeding we are talking about is technically called the “700 MHZ interoperability” proceeding. The 700 MHz is a spectrum band that is being used to develop LTE networks. Licenses for this band of spectrum are held by AT&T and several smaller and rural wireless carriers. LTE devices, such as smart phones, would use this spectrum to operate. The chipsets in the new phones for the new network would be capable of operating on the 700 MHz band.
Because of its dominant market position, AT&T is capable of dictating the design of these chipsets so that they only work with the chunk of the 700 MHz spectrum licensed to AT&T and not spectrum in the same band licensed to other carriers. Not only will devices with the new chipsets not work on the other carriers’ network, making it impossible to switch networks and hang on to your device. As an added bonus, the ability of smaller carriers to acquire new devices in the first place as chip manufacturers will have no incentive to design something that the smaller carriers can use on their networks.
The FCC has the power to prevent these bad outcomes while protecting the public interest. We are urging the FCC to require that devices that operate on the 700 MHZ bands be capable of working on multiple chunks of spectrum including the spectrum licensed to AT&T and to its smaller competitors. Such an outcome would be beneficial for you as well as for competition.