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Groups ask FCC to stop anti-competitive cell phone locking

Consumers Union * Consumer Federation of America * Free Press

May 1, 2007
Public Interest Groups Ask FCC to Stop Anti-Competitive Cell Phone Locking, Application Blocking by Wireless Industry

Washington, D.C. ― Consumer groups asked the Federal Communications Commission to consider new rules requiring wireless cell and broadband providers to let consumers use any phone or device on their networks and provide unrestricted access to the Internet via broadband-capable devices. In comments submitted to the FCC, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and Free Press also asked the agency to stop mobile companies’ blocking of certain competitive software applications, such as Internet phone services.
“Wireless customers pay good money for the phones and other devices they buy,” said Jeannine Kenney, senior policy analyst of Consumers Union. “Just as they can bring their cell phone numbers with them, they should be able to keep their phones when they switch providers.”
The comments describe widespread wireless industry practices that hinder innovation in the wireless market and impede competition by preventing consumers from switching networks. They include restricting the types of phones that can be used on their networks, “locking” otherwise compatible phones so they can’t be used on competitor’s networks, disabling the features of phones and mobile broadband devices, and restricting Internet access on broadband-capable devices.
“Cell phone locking is simply an effort to make it expensive and inconvenient for consumers to switch carriers,” said Ben Scott, Policy Director of Free Press. “These are the same tactics the cell phone carriers used when they tried to prevent consumers from keeping their phone numbers six years ago. The FCC saw through their tricks then. We hope they’ll see through them now.”
“The wireless industry would like to paint these anti-competitive practices as a spat between one commercial provider and another—but this is a major consumer issue that affects tens of millions of consumers every year,” added Scott.
In the United States, there are approximately 213 million mobile subscribers, and mobile revenues were nearly $60 billion in 2005, according to the FCC.
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Contact: Jennifer Fuson, (202) 462-6262, fusoje@consumer.org