More cell-phone choice coming soon?

Sam Eaton Jul 10, 2007

More cell-phone choice coming soon?

Sam Eaton Jul 10, 2007


Kai Ryssdal: You’ve probably heard by now that Apple’s new iPhone comes with an AT&T service contract, and only an AT&T service contract. Deals like that are great for big business, arguably not so great for consumers. But callers everywhere may soon have more choices when it comes to how they use their cell phones.

There’s a vote in the Federal Communications Commission coming up on the latest auction of wireless airwaves. Really, really valuable wireless airwaves. And there’s word of a proposal soon to be floating around the FCC under which that auction would require something called open access.

Marketplace’s Sam Eaton explains.

Sam Eaton: If the high-tech industry had a wish list for the Federal Communications Commission, open access would be at the top. Companies like Google have been pressuring the government to sell wireless airwaves with the condition that they remain open to all users.

Now it looks like Google may get that wish. Open access would allow it to enter the wireless marketplace both through its software and as a service provider.

But technology analyst Rob Enderle says high-tech firms aren’t the only ones who would benefit.

Rob Enderle: When you open up a market to competition, generally the consumer wins. Prices come down, access goes up.

The airwaves in question are a huge slice of bandwidth being freed up as the television industry transitions to a digital signal. The sale, which will happen early next year, offers a rare opportunity to enter the crowded wireless marketplace.

And with a potential price tag of $20 billion, dominant wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon are balking at the possibility of having to share those airwaves.

Joe Farren: This is potentially welfare for Silicon Valley.

Joe Farren is with wireless industry trade group CTIA:

Farren: It says we’re gonna elevate government mandate above consumer demand.

Farren says that strategy could backfire. He says requiring open access would diminish the value of the new airwaves ahead of the sale, potentially robbing U.S. taxpayers of billions of dollars.

But tech analyst Rob Enderle says at least they won’t be paying several hundred dollars a month to connect their new iPhones to the Internet.

I’m Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

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