Senators Call BS on Carrier Exclusivity
We absolutely will offer MMS on iPhone 3G S in the late summer, once we complete some system upgrades that will ensure our customers have the best experience with MMS. These upgrades are unrelated to our 3G network. … We plan to offer a tethering plan but we don’t have anything to announce today.
Welcome news for folks who love the iPhone, but hate AT&T. The increasing prevalence of exclusivity agreements between wireless carriers and cellphone manufacturers, like the one between Apple (AAPL) and AT&T (T), is drawing some government scrutiny. Four U.S. senators are urging the Federal Communications Commission to review such deals with an eye toward determining whether they unfairly restrict consumer choice and hamper competition. In a letter, the four asked that the Commission specifically consider the following:
- Whether exclusivity agreements are becoming increasingly prevalent between dominant wireless carriers and handset manufacturers
- Whether exclusivity agreements are restricting consumer choice with respect to which handsets are available depending on a consumer’s geographic region, particularly for consumers living in rural America
- 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.
- Whether exclusivity agreements are manipulating the competitive marketplace between commercial wireless carriers. Specifically, whether the ability for a dominant carrier to reach an exclusive agreement with a handset manufacturer is inhibiting the ability of smaller, more regional carriers to compete
- Whether exclusivity agreements play a role in encouraging or discouraging innovation within the handset marketplace
An interesting list and one that seems to single out AT&T, though it doesn’t mention the carrier by name. Indeed, limiting “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” is exactly what AT&T will do later this week when the iPhone 3G S and iPhone OS 3.0 debut without the carrier’s support for their new tethering and MMS capabilities.
And then there’s this: The iPhone 3G S is compatible with high-speed packet access 7.2 technology, which offers theoretical peak download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps. But AT&T doesn’t plan to begin deploying HSPA 7.2 until later this year and the company doesn’t expect to complete the rollout until 2011.
Finally, the company’s refusal to sell the iPhone in rural areas where it provides only roaming coverage certainly restricts “consumer choice with respect to which handsets are available depending on a consumer’s geographic region, particularly for consumers living in rural America.”
Clearly, if the senators responsible for this letter were looking for a case study for the problems with exclusive carrier-device agreements, they’ve got one ready-made in AT&T.