Regulatory authorities in the United States are taking a closer look at anti-competitive business practices. Mobile operators now find themselves being scrutinized for practices involving exclusivity arrangements signed with phone manufacturers. Also coming under examination are roaming and interconnection arrangements for data services. Operators like AT&T and Verizon own considerable segments of land-line networks and it is widely felt that this creates a conflict-of-interest, delaying the wider rollout of mobile Internet services.
From a NY Times editorial, a look at exclusive arrangements with phone manufacturers:
With the pattern of exclusive deals extending to new netbooks, smaller companies warn that mobile Web access could be tied up entirely. In the past 10 years, the big cellphone companies have gobbled up smaller ones while regulators looked on. The Big Four — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — account for 90 percent of cellphone subscribers. Verizon and AT&T alone have 60 percent. Dozens of areas have but one wireless provider.
Regulators intend to also focus on how data service arrangements between operators:
And they haven’t been shy about using that power. The F.C.C. mandates carriers, for example, to sign roaming contracts for voice services. But data, the fastest-growing and most innovative segment of telecommunications, isn’t covered. Small carriers complain that the big ones won’t enter into data roaming contracts.
Already, just the suggestion of a review by regulators has forced one operator to shorten the length of exclusivity arrangements with manufacturers. Again, this demonstrates the power regulatory authorities should be able to exercise. As mobile phones become an increasingly popular option for users to get online, authorities must take a closer look to ensure policies that foster competition are in place.