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FCC Test Looms on Wireless Competition

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This Thursday in its monthly public meeting, the FCC will consider — as it does each year — the state of competition in the wireless marketplace. It is an important assessment and one that merits a cold, hard look — as the new FCC is wont to do — at the underlying facts and data.

Here are some of the key facts about the American wireless marketplace:

Our nation currently is home to the world's lowest per-minute voice prices, largest 3G customer base and most innovative and voluminous applications and device markets. More than nine out of 10 Americans have mobile devices. One in four of us favor them so much that we left our landline telephone service in the last century. Two-thirds of us have a choice of five or more wireless providers and a range of plans from family discounts to pre-paid, no contract options to "all in" voice, data and texting for as little as $50 a month.

By any measure — from the number of facilities-based competitors to the market share of individual companies — U.S. consumers enjoy the most competitive wireless marketplace on earth. Turn on your radio, your TV or open your newspaper and you plainly see compelling evidence of vibrant competition and consumer choice.

A recent memo from the FCC's general counsel, which lays out Chairman Julius Genachowski's "third way" proposal for net neutrality regulation, even cites industry claims that "one of the greatest successes in this industry in the last twenty years (is) the growth of wireless services."

A quick glimpse at the frenetic pace of this growth more than proves the point. Verizon and Google have gone public with their ambitions to challenge the AT&T/Apple iPad alliance. HP, Dell and others are also in hot pursuit. Cox is becoming the first U.S. cable company to offer wireless services directly to consumers and businesses. Regional players like Leap Wireless and MetroPCS are thriving. T-Mobile has vowed to deliver the fastest available speeds across its 3G footprint by year's end. Sprint is prepping the launch of its Evo 4G device, the first to run on its much-heralded 4G network. And, the FCC's recent approval of the Harbinger-Skyterra merger promises the emergence of a fifth national wireless player.

With so many choices, Americans can afford to be among the most communicative in the world, spending more than six billion minutes each day on their mobile phones and sending five billion daily text messages.

Importantly, the competition and consumer choice extends well beyond service providers. America is home to more than 240,000 mobile applications and at least seven competing applications stores. At the Apple App Store alone, more than three billion applications have been downloaded since its launch less than two years ago.

The U.S. is the envy of the mobile innovation world for the robust nature of our networks and the diverse array of consumer choices in devices, applications and service options.

While the FCC urges substantial reforms on multiple fronts, it would be judicious for the Commission to point out where the marketplace is working. Audiences from consumers to policymakers to Wall Street are actively speculating as to how broad or restrained the FCC's new regulatory push ultimately will be — and the potential impact for better or for worse from jobs and economic recovery to innovation and investment. Drawing a bright white line by affirming that competition is clearly working in wireless would offer a reassuring distinction amid a potential tangle of new red tape.

If the Commission aims to make good on its promise to advance a competitive, innovative and consumer-powered marketplace, now is the time and this week's mobile competition report is the place to make clear the upper limits of its regulatory ambitions.

Jonathan Spalter, chairman of Mobile Future, has been founding CEO of leading technology, media, and research companies, including Public Insight, Snocap, and Atmedica Worldwide. He served as an advisor to and spokesperson for Vice President Al Gore during the Clinton administration.

Mobile Future is a 501(c)(4) coalition comprised of and supported by technology businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals dedicated to advocating for an environment in which innovations in wireless technology and services are enabled and encouraged. For a full list of members and sponsors and to learn more about the coalition, go to www.mobilefuture.org.

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