Competitive Carriers Association Says Industry is Not Competitive Enough

Carriers and their associations disagree on whether the wireless industry is competitive. CTIA and Verizon say it is while the Competitive Carriers Association says it’s not competitive nationwide. The issue is important because the agency has to file reports to Congress each year, detailing where competition exists, whether there’s enough or if an additional provider would boost competition.

CTIA calls the market “robust” and “thriving” in comments filed with the Commission. It notes the adoption of 395.9 million wireless devices in the U.S. by the end of 2016, and says wireless penetration is at more than 100 percent of the U.S. population.

Over the past seven years, wireless providers spent more than $200 billion in network improvements to deliver 4G LTE mobile broadband, and they are expected to invest $275 billion to build out 5G over the next decade. 4G LTE service is now available to 99.7 percent of Americans and covers more than 71 percent of the total U.S. land area, according to CTIA. That connectivity is facilitated by 308,334 cell sites.

Verizon says “it’s long past time to conclude that the mobile marketplace is subject to effective and intense competition.” The carrier urged the Commission to make policy choices based on this finding. The carrier cites falling prices, rising use and robust investment. Verizon says carriers now face competition beyond traditional providers, from WiFi-based providers, Mobile Virtual Network Operators, and over-the-top VoIP, video-chat, messaging, and social media apps.

Meanwhile, CCA says the industry is in a transition and the FCC should foster pro-competitive policies while it also conducts a traditional market power analysis. It says the FCC’s understanding of the mobile market is “is plagued by fractured data and generalizations.”

“CCA represents nearly 100 mobile carriers, yet by the end of 2016, only four carriers’ market share [Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint] is significant enough to be meaningfully represented in a top-down view of the market. The FCC cannot responsibly say the vast market shares … represent a competitive market without trivializing the significant contributions rural and regional carriers make to their communities every day.”    

The Commission recognizes, and CCA member experience validates, that many parts of the country do not receive, much less have competitive choice for, mobile wireless service, says CCA. “The mobile wireless market will continue to evolve, and reforms related to universal service, business data service, spectrum, and planned infrastructure reform will have certain, yet unpredictable impacts on the ecosystem. These shifts continue to occur as carriers move toward 5G and Internet of Things (“IoT”) technologies, which creates uncertainty regarding how competition in these markets will progress.”

Reply comments are due June 7, to docket 17-69; initial comments were due May 8.

May 11, 2017      

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