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FCC launches inquiry into foreign mobile termination fees

WASHINGTON-The Federal Communications Commission today launched an inquiry to assess the impact of high foreign mobile termination fees on American consumers, dragging the United States further into a controversy that domestic and international wireless carriers would rather see settled by overseas regulators and the market place.

FCC members indicated they too are reluctant to intervene, but said they need to gather additional information and study the mobile termination fee issue in order to determine whether further regulatory action is necessary.

“An NOI [Notice of Inquiry] is the best way the commission has to gather information in the most transparent and open process possible,” said FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, a Democrat. “And I cannot emphasize enough that this NOI into foreign mobile termination rates is simply that-an inquiry. I have not prejudged an outcome and, indeed, my preferred outcome would be that the market resolves itself. I hope the record ultimately bears this out, but want to make sure we keep an eye on it in the meantime.”

Long distance giants, particularly AT&T Corp. and MCI Worldcom Inc., want the FCC to expand regulations currently governing settlement of U.S.-international wireline calls to include wireless traffic.

Global telecom giant Vodafone Group plc and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association have urged the FCC not to meddle in the mobile termination fee fracas.

The European Union and other overseas regulators have pressed their mobile phone carriers to lower fees wireless operators charge consumers for calls completed on their networks. Indeed, there are signs some foreign mobile phone termination fees are coming down. The fee problem is more pronounced in Europe, which has a calling-party-pays regime. In the U.S., mobile subscribers pay for calls others make to them.

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