Sparks Fly As Commissioners Debate Mobile Wireless Competition

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For much of yesterday’s FCC meeting, Commissioners agreed on many things, but when it came to the 20th Mobile Wireless Competition Report, the gloves came off. Republican Chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow GOP Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr agreed the statistics from 2016 and early 2017 show there is effective competition in the wireless markets. The report makes interesting conclusions about tower site pricing as well.

O’Rielly said “nationwide providers are investing in infrastructure and fiercely competing for customers.” Carr agreed, adding: “Wireless prices are falling. Speeds are increasing. To get there, the FCC has to do its part, finding ways to drive down the regulatory costs of deploying fiber and small cells.” Getting this done is going to be one of his priorities, Carr said.

Both Democrats disagreed with the report’s conclusion. “If the wireless carriers only cover 60 percent of the rural population,” that means those residents “do not have access to the four major wireless providers,” said Mignon Clyburn. “How can the report conclude that’s competitive?”   

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said Congress directed the FCC to define competition and the report doesn’t do that. “It makes apologies and says networks … are out of its scope. It’s hard. Well, tough.”

Without naming specific companies, she alluded to reports of “mergers waiting in the wings. Let’s be mindful a transaction may soon be announced.” Rosenworcel says the report ignores this, that the agency “sticks its head in the sand and says, ‘Nothing to see here.’”

Pai said his Commission abandoned the prior practice of just issuing the report without a vote, noting whether they’re voting ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ “I’m glad they can vote in the first place. Most reasonable people see a reasonably competitive marketplace. To those who want to impose more regulations on wireless … this Commission begins with the facts,” he said.

Senate Democrats said earlier, the report would give Pai reason to pass a Net Neutrality rollback, and thus they plan to drag out his Senate re-confirmation, Inside Towers reported. Pai declined all comment on the matter after the meeting.

September 27, 2017

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