The FCC's interest in the wireless business--evidenced by its pouncing into the Google Voice/Apple iPhone affair and handset exclusivity--is long overdue. It's the FCC's doing that the U.S. has a second-class wireless system and it's time to make changes.
This sudden spurt of FCC activity is the Democrats' fault. Long the lapdog of the industries it is supposed to regulate, the Obama FCC, under new chairman Julius Genachowski, is willing to go where prior administrations refused to tread.
A Silicon Valley veteran, the new chairman appears to be pulling FCC investigations right out of the headlines.
Complaints about exclusive handset deals? There's the FCC, ready to investigate.
Upset about not getting Google Voice for your iPhone? There's the FCC again, sending inquisitive letters to AT&T, Apple, and Google, seeking their sides of the story. (AT&T has denied any role in the decision).
Even if no wrongdoing is found, I'll bet Apple will be a little more customer-friendly in the future. Steve Jobs is not used to serious regulatory oversight, but with Apple ascendant, he seems to be attracting it. It may be interesting to watch how as an intensively secretive (and condescending) company as Apple reacts to governmental oversight.
Past FCC actions have saddled us with a cellular industry that the rest of the world laughs at. Our handsets are tied to carriers, not so in most other places. Breaking that linkage could increase handset prices (no subsidy from carriers) but could also end the ubiquitous two-year cellular contract (again no subsidy to consider).
The Obama FCC will not solve these problems overnight or maybe at all. But, it's good to see the FCC is starting to spend them on issues that consumers care about and less time making the industries it regulates even richer.
The real test will be net neutrality, which the FCC and Congress have yet to act upon. Some carriers believe they should have some say over the why their networks are used. Consumer advocates say carriers should be pipelines only, some going as far as wanting to bar carriers from the content business altogether.
All eyes will be on Genachowski and Obama as the issue winds its way around Washington, with much lobbying already underway. How this one plays out will likely be a big part of the new chairman's legacy.
Hopefully, he will be as good on large consumer issues as he is on the ones making headlines.