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FCC to vote on US mobile competition probe

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The FCC has scheduled an open meeting for next Thursday, to decide if the regulator should launch a full examination of competition in the US mobile industry.

With its new-found willingness to take on all comers, the FCC is proposing a Notice of Inquiry tasked with gathering information about competition between commercial mobile operators for report to Congress, and will be discussing the idea at the meeting.

The US mobile market is dominated by AT&T and Verizon, but also supports a myriad of small providers with local coverage. These providers are dependent on roaming agreements with the big players, and have often complained about being overcharged for roaming and call routing.

The FCC is already looking into the issue of handsets being exclusive to specific operators, and manufacturers exerting too much control over content, but this time the focus is on how the operators deal with each other, and whether the current landscape provides a competitive environment to the benefit of customers.

Certainly the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) believes Americans aren't getting much of a deal - its report on the subject last week claimed that Americans were paying $635.85 a year on mobile, compared to $141.44 in the Netherlands and similar rates elsewhere in Europe. That drew a swift rebuttal from industry lobbyists the CTIA, who claimed the figures were based on unrealistic call volumes (Americans, it seems, make more calls) but the existence of the debate would seem to indicate there is a case to answer.

Not that the operators are unduly worried, at least not in public: Verizon told Bloomberg that it is "very much looking forward to beginning the dialogue", while AT&T explained "We like the fact that this new FCC and the new chairman seem to be very data-driven... When you look at the facts in the wireless industry, you see a lot of choice and variety."

It's still early days for the newly aggressive FCC, but if you happen to be in Washington come Thursday you might like to drop by and see how they're planning to do things (meeting details pdf), or you could just wait for the meeting to be reported on Twitter. ®

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