FCC Should Restrict Exclusive Handset Deals

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At the beginning of cellular, the FCC did consumers wrong by allowing specific handsets to be tightly coupled to carrier networks. That lead to handset exclusivity deals that have limited choice and led to customer lock-in. That wrong may yet be righted.

Want an iPhone? Go see AT&T and only AT&T. A Pre? That's a Sprint offering. You know the drill and the negative impact it has had on customers.

So, I am jumping-up-and-down-thrilled--well almost--to see that President Obama's acting FCC Chairman, Michael Copps, is ready to review the damage and, maybe, make changes.

It took four U.S. Senators--three Democrats and a Republican--to prompt the investigation. The four, John Kerry, (D-Mass.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), are all members of the Commerce Committee that oversees the FCC.

In their letter, sent last Monday, the Senators specifically referred to recent consumer complaints about AT&T and the new iPhone 3G S.

"We ask that you examine this issue carefully, whether exclusivity agreements place limitations on a consumer's ability to take full advantage of handset technologies, such as the ability to send multimedia messages or the ability to 'tether' a device to a computer for Internet use," the Senators wrote, repeating recent complaints about AT&T non-support for new iPhone features.

Chairman Copps agreed to the request, saying, "I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, and I agree that we should open a proceeding to closely examine wireless handset exclusivity arrangements that have reportedly become more prevalent in recent years, and I have instructed the Bureau to begin crafting such an item."

When the item is crafted and finally appears, however, Copps will be long gone from the FCC, having been shifted by President Obama into a new role overseeing how more than $7.2 in stimulus money allocated to Internet expansion will be spent.

According to the Washington Post, Julius Genachowski, President Obama's pick to chair the FCC, has already said he supports the investigation.

Genachowski's nomination to chair the FCC is headed to a full conformation vote in the Senate, amid no serious opposition.

David Coursey has been hoping this investigation would come for, well, decades. He tweets as techinciter and can be contact via e-mail using www.coursey.com/contact.

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