GAO Issues Report On How FCC Can Better Monitor Competition in the Wireless Industry

The Government Accountability Office (GOA) today published an in-depth report on the wireless industry to analyze concerns over consumer choice in relation to the seemingly anti-competitive environment that’s been created by operator consolidation over the past decade.

More specifically, the report aimed to evaluate whether consumers are protected from harmful practices like early-termination fees and handset exclusivity arrangements, for example.  The comprehensive analysis included collecting and analyzing data and documents from a variety of government and private sources, as well as conducting case studies in both rural and urban areas and interviewing stakeholders representing consumers, local and state agencies.

“The biggest changes in the wireless industry since 2000 have been consolidation among wireless carriers and increased use of wireless services by consumers,” the GOA explained.  “Industry consolidation has made it more difficult for small and regional carriers to be competitive.  Difficulties for these carriers include securing subscribers, making network investments, and offering the latest wireless phones necessary to compete in this dynamic industry.  Nevertheless, consumers have also seen benefits, such as generally lower prices, which are approximately 50 percent less than 1999 prices, and better coverage.”

The goal was to offer suggestions to the FCC to better monitor the wireless industry to keep the most open environment possible for both consumers and stakeholders.  From the report: “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.”

This falls in line with the goal of groups like the Mobile Internet Content Coalition (MICC) and Public Knowledge, who fight for open standards in the wireless sector and call for less carrier control.  The FCC is being petitioned left and right, so it should be interesting to see how they respond to the pressure.  You can download the GOA’s entire report here.