As we've mentioned here before, the wireless market, while it has a lot of competitors, isn't all that competitive for the 236 million consumers who subscribe to cellular service. There are onerous restrictions on what phones you can buy and on how you use the phones you have.
Many of these issues were raised in a petition filed by Skype Communications asking the FCC to recognize that cell phone users should have the same rights as those who use regular landline phones — the right to attach equipment and to use services they want.
Earlier today, six groups filed comments with the Commission in favor of Skype's petition. The members of the Ad Hoc Public Interest Spectrum Coalition signing the comments were (in alphabetical order): EDUCAUSE, Free Press, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, Public Knowledge and U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The full text of the comments is here.
In our comments to the Commission, the groups noted that under a 1968 FCC order, consumers using telephones connected to the wired telephone network “have the right to attach equipment and use applications of their choice.” The groups argued: “Wireless consumers deserve the same innovation-spawning rights.” The problem today, the groups said, is that: “Wireless carriers are hampering innovation and raising costs by using market, technical, and contractual barriers to limit consumer choice and reduce competition in communications software and consumer equipment.”
The groups asked the FCC to “adopt and enforce non-discrimination requirements for wireless Internet access networks.” According to the filing: “Wireless carriers actively interfere with consumer access to Internet content and services; therefore, the Commission, under its own reasoning in the 2005 Broadband Access Policy Statement, should prohibit wireless carriers from discriminating against consumer-chosen equipment, applications and content.” Wireless carriers “should not be allowed to leverage exclusive government spectrum licenses to thwart competition and restrict consumer choice in the related and rapidly evolving markets for wireless devices, applications and content,” the groups said.
The groups also recommended the Commission investigate wireless consumer service agreements, which often include hefty termination charges. According to the filing: “We believe these long-term unilateral agreements harm consumers and prevent market corrections.”
We know there will be a lot of opposition to the Skype petition, and to us, from the entrenched interests in the wireless industry. We think everyone will be better off with greater freedom, competition and flexibility — consumers, wireless companies, phone manufacturers and service providers.