The FCC has begun a three-pronged probe into the wireless industry. The inquiry is partially a response to recent controversies with Apple and Google, but it is more about a shift in ideology and the maturity of the wireless industry as a critical part of the communications backbone.
Much of the difference between the FCC we're used to and the FCC we see today has to do with a difference in philosophy between the Bush and Obama administrations. The Bush administration took a much more hands-off approach to business and let corporations operate largely unregulated and with very little oversight.
That laissez-faire approach contributed significantly to the issues being faced by the country. I am not suggesting that tighter regulation would have magically fixed everything or that the government should be micromanaging the private sector. However, had someone beside the foxes been paying some attention to the henhouse perhaps the problems could have been identified and addressed before they hit global crisis level.
With the new administration came a new head of the FCC. Julius Genachowski, the new FCC Chair, committed during his confirmation hearings to explore the ethics of exclusivity agreements between mobile device manufacturers and mobile service providers and whether or not exclusivity is unfair to consumers. Genachowski's confirmation hearing testimony threw down the gauntlet and should have been a warning signal to the wireless industry that changes were coming.
Aside from pure philosophical differences of one administration over another, the increased scrutiny on the wireless industry is a sign of its maturity. The federal government should protect consumer rights and the ability for companies to compete at all levels and in all industries, but it has a particular responsibility to monitor and protect those industries that make up the backbone of communications and commerce for the country.
The fact that the FCC is taking such an interest in the wireless industry demonstrates just how far the industry has come and just how much government agencies, public services, and national commerce have come to rely on it. It has evolved from a frivolous luxury to a critical infrastructure. With that evolution comes an increased obligation to ensure equal access for all and a duty to build a secure and resilient infrastructure that can remain available even in times of national crisis.
It remains to be seen where the FCC inquiries will lead. Whether the probe results in sweeping changes to the wireless industry, or minor adjustments, the wireless industry should embrace its role as a component of the national backbone and resign itself to greater scrutiny and oversight from this point forward.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.