LAS VEGAS – If one thing was evident coming out of this week’s Competitive Carriers Association event in Las Vegas – besides a strong distaste for Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility – it’s that carriers outside the “big 2” have a lot riding on regulatory issues confronting the industry.
During a panel discussion at the CCA event, regulatory representatives from a number of carriers expressed their ideas on ways the industry can confront those issues, as well as spoke about the impact and possible changes to the landmark 1996 Telecom Act.
(Check out the entire panel, which starts at the 1 hour 11 minute mark of this video)
Similar to grievances aired by CCA, most on the panel cited spectrum, interoperability and data roaming as challenges they foresee as central to regulatory challenges they are attempting to tackle.
Those representatives seemed to welcome some regulatory oversight in regards to rules that would level the competitive playing field in the mobile space, which most noted has tilted decidedly in the direction of the nation’s two largest operator. However, that welcoming of oversight was tempered with caution that such regulation needed to be done carefully as to not go overboard and harm innovation.
There was general agreement that the 700 MHz spectrum auction was not the great competitive success as had been hoped, as Verizon Wireless’ near domination in acquiring nationwide licenses via the C-Block, and AT&T Mobility’s ability to gobble up a majority of B-Block licenses has made it difficult for smaller carriers to compete. The regulatory representatives indicated that the Federal Communications Commission needs to take a harder look at parsing out prime spectrum licenses into smaller blocks that better serve the coverage interests of regional operators and could lead to more aggressive bidding.
As for talk of a potential re-write of the landmark 1996 Telecom Act, most had ideas, but were cautious on that approach as that document still seems to hold weight amongst the telecom community.
“There were some things that came out well through the regulatory process and some things that event today have not yet been fully ironed out,” noted Russ Merbeth, VP of government affairs for Cricket Communications. “There are still battles going on … both wireline and wireless. It’s hard to imagine that there is something comprehensive like that would be done again so the idea of a big re-write of the 96 act is very intriguing. … If you’re re-writing legislation as important as the 96 Telecom Act, a lot of the upfront work needs to be done with Congress and that’s a challenge for this community to fully engage … on something like this it needs to be an all hands on deck.”
Chuck Willis, VP at Bluegrass Cellular, took the process a step further noting that perhaps regulators needed to go back to the 80’s when the telecom sector really became competitive following the breakup of AT&T. Willis noted that the industry has gone from having several competitors across most sectors to again having but two in most cases, citing the dominance of AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless in the wireless space.
“I don’t think we have made much progress,” Willis noted. “Maybe we need to look at a second divestiture.”
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