Pricing policy might be the price for mobile spectrum

21 January 2013 by Steve Blum
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Can they meet in the middle?

The gap between the consumer expectations created by broadband service providers and delivered performance is once again drawing attention in Washington. Mobile carriers are the ones in the crosshairs this time.

Silicon Valley congresswoman Anna Eschoo says she's going to take another try at passing legislation regulating what mobile carriers have to tell customers when they sign up for service plans. She's specifically targeting pricing, terms and conditions of service and network management techniques that can have an impact on the level of service that's actually delivered.

It's an issue that's also grabbed the attention of FCC commissioners, although there's a range of opinions amongst them as to what, if anything, to do about it. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, speaking at a panel discussion at CES in Las Vegas earlier this month, pointed to the fact that they received 380,000 complaints about broadband service providers last year. That and the fact that a typical U.S. family will spend something like 4% of household income on various telecommunications products and services highlight the importance they attach to it. She said the FCC's job is “inspiring confidence” amongst consumers.

“When you start limiting pricing freedom, you're going to see less of a resource, you're going to see prices go up for everybody,” commissioner Robert McDowell countered. Commissioner Ajit Pai agreed, asking “do you want the FCC to inject itself into network management issues?”

The debate is clearly split along partisan lines. McDowell and Pai are Republican appointees, Rosenworcel is a Democrat. As is Eschoo, who, despite the personal respect paid to her by her Republican colleagues, is not making much headway convincing the majority party in the House of Representatives.

On the other hand, mobile carriers in particular have a wish list for Congress and the FCC, including access to more spectrum and pre-emption of local government restrictions on cell tower construction. Getting the agreement of the Democrats controlling the Senate will likely require compromise. Eschoo is well positioned to take advantage of it.