Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Mobile Regulation

The Media Access Project (MAP) provided an interesting overview of the controversy surrounding mobile internet and wireless providers. As we're all aware, cell phones are much less telephones and much more a portal to access Email, Facebook, Twitter, internet browsing, and texting. Because mobile internet is becoming such a popular and primary way of accessing the internet, it's important to think about who provides this service, and at what cost it comes to consumers.

Currently, there are four main players in the industry: Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. The MAP's main concern with this domination is that so much power of a highly useful (arguably necessary for many) service lies in the hands of so few. In addition, the business practices of these companies are coming under fire for their highly restrictive plans, limited phone options, and high fees for cancellation and cheap services, such as texting. The MAP argues that through regulation of these practices, the consumer will be given a better product and more freedom to choose both wireless carriers and hardware from various providers.

The most recent, well-known example of this controversy is the discussion around the potential merge between AT&T and T-Mobile. If this merge were to happen, it would become the largest provider in the country and could assume a takeover of the entire industry. This article explains the MAP's reasoning behind the FCC and US Justice Department's lawsuit against the merge. In addition, this article provides a good overview of the back-and-forth that is taking place around this lawsuit. The case is still in court, and it will be very interesting to see what comes of it.

This controversy over regulation is quite different from the television industry, which we discussed in class on Monday. There is little concern about First Amendment rights, and more concern about the well-being of consumers and the public being treated fairly by the producers. The rate that mobile internet is growing as a primary means of access to the web means that the public needs to be aware of who provides it and what the consequences are. Little or no choice in the matter of providers means that there will continue to be higher prices and more restrictions between companies.

In this case, I am a fan of regulation. There clearly needs to be change in this industry, and it doesn't appear that companies are going to take it upon themselves. Allowing people more freedom to access mobile internet and choose from several providers without fear of stringent restrictions is going to allow the smart phone/tablet industry more room to expand. This comes back to what we discussed in class on Monday - by regulating the source of our wireless diversity, it's very likely that our content diversity will expand with more availability, more plans, phones, and access.

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