FCC Adopts Wireless Competition Report Amid Democratic Opposition

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By Tara Jeffries

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines Sept. 26 to adopt a report finding effective competition in the mobile wireless market, despite Democratic concerns.

The commission’s three Republican members voted to adopt the report, which is the first since 2009 to deem the mobile wireless services market effectively competitive. The report signals a possible light-touch regulatory approach by the commission for wireless carriers.

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said that a potential merger among the largest wireless carriers could alter the market. Rosenworcel did not refer to any specific carriers, but Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc., two of the nation’s top four providers, are said to be in merger negotiations.

“While this report celebrates the presence of four nationwide wireless providers, let’s be mindful that a transaction may soon be announced that seeks to combine two of these four,” Rosenworcel said. “While the Commission should not prejudge what is not yet before us, I think this agency sticks its collective head in the sand by issuing this report and implying, ‘Move along, there is nothing to see here.’”

Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said rural consumers lack the same access to all four major carriers that non-rural subscribers have. She criticized the data analysis as “truncated,” and decried the report’s focus as too narrow compared to previous annual assessments.

“This is like a doctor looking at one organ and pronouncing the patient fit as a fiddle,” Clyburn said.

The three Republican commissioners pointed to the proliferation of unlimited data plans and jockeying for new subscribers among providers as evidence of a thriving wireless sector.

“Most reasonable people see a fiercely competitive marketplace,” GOP Chairman Ajit Pai said.

Pai said later that the FCC is tasked with analyzing the existing state of wireless competition, not speculating about how it might shift.

“That state doesn’t include rumors that may or may not materialize,” including any potential Sprint-T-Mobile deal, Pai said.

Spokespersons for Sprint and T-Mobile did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tara Jeffries at tjeffries@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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