The wireless industry is about to find out what it's like to be under Washington's microscope. The FCC this week announced efforts to further study competitive landscape of the mobile wireless market and determine whether consumers have the necessary information they need to make informed decisions about mobile phones and mobile phone service.
The notices of inquiry announced by the FCC comes on the heels of replies from Google, AT&T and Apple over government's inquiry surrounding the controversial Google Voice app for the iPhone. Earlier this month, word spread that Apple had rejected the Google Voice app - though Apple says it's still "pondering" it. It was believed that the reason for a rejection of the app was because it cut into the voice service revenue stream offered by Apple partner AT&T. That's not exactly the case, as I keep explaining in blog posts, but it was enough to spark some interest in Washington.
Washington has raised some questions earlier this year about exclusivity deals, such as the multi-year exclusive agreement between AT&T and Apple for service on the iPhone. In its notice, the FCC wrote:
Wireless mobility has become central to the economic, civic, and social lives of over 270 million Americans. We are now in the midst of a transition from reliance on mobile voice services to increasing use of and reliance on mobile broadband services, which promise to connect American citizens in new and profound ways. A robustly competitive mobile wireless market will be essential to realizing the full benefits to American consumers and channeling investment into vitally important national infrastructure. The FCC is seeking to ensure that competition in the mobile wireless market continues to bring substantial benefits to American consumers.
My biggest concern with the inquiries out of Washington, though, are that the FCC is reacting a bit too late and will move slowly - with new deals and new technologies coming out before any sort of conclusions are reached, potentially making the government's issue a moot point.
A study of the competitive conditions is nice but is it too late? For all we know, the rumors about Apple offering a Verizon-powered iPhone once its contract with AT&T expires could certainly poke a few holes into Washington's concerns about exclusivity.
As for that study of whether consumers have access to the information they need before signing a contract, I kind of feel like this is a waste of time. I am in the middle of testing a number of different phones and services these days and, with each carrier I've talked to this year about phone plans and contracts - which includes the four big players in the U.S. - I've yet to have a question go unanswered.
Look, America, if you want information about plans and extra charges and early termination fees and so on, do some freakin' homework before you plop down a credit card for the fancy new phone that everyone is gushing over. There's a ton of information on each company's Web site and, at least in major cities across the country, each of the carrier's has corporate-owned retail stores where the sales people seem to have a good grasp on plans, devices and contract terms.
Allow me to say it one more time: shop the plan first, then shop the phone. You could have the coolest, sexiest, hippest phone out there - but it's nothing more than a $200 brick unless you have a good, affordable service plan that you can live with.
On this particular topic, I say that government officials should not waste their time or my tax dollars studying how wireless carriers can inform consumers anymore than they already do. Focus on that exclusivity issue so that consumers can have true freedom of choice when it comes to both service and device.