The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 5-0 today to launch an investigation of the wireless industry, focusing on efforts to improve innovation and increase consumer protections in the American mobile market.
The statement, a prelude to a formal "Notice of Inquiry" issued by the agency, expands on an earlier investigation of "truth in billing" disclosures, designed to ensure consumers are being billed fairly for their wireless services. The additional investigation "asks questions about the information available to consumers at each stage of the purchasing process."
"The Commission seeks comment from communications service providers, academic researchers, consumer groups and third-party analysts on how best to ensure consumers have the information they need to make informed decisions in the communications marketplace," the agency said.
Although the vote to launch the investigation was unanimous, the sentiments behind it were not. Democrats, who hold a 3-2 majority on the commission, emphasized the need for stronger consumer protections, while Republicans warned against excessive regulation that could hamper innovation.
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said the investigation would "seek to ensure that consumers have the information they need to make the market work," while new commission member Mignon Clyburn--both Democrats--urged industry leaders to share customer data in order to avoid "developing solutions that are suboptimal for both consumers and industry."
"We have a responsibility to weigh the benefits of any proposed regulation against the costs, as well as to carefully consider potential unintended consequences of our actions," said Republican commissioner Meredith Atwell-Baker.
The announcement comes on the heels of the FCC's inquiry into why Apple and AT&T; have allegedly blocked access to the Google Voice calling application on the iPhone. AT&T's exclusive contract with Apple to carry the iPhone made it a target of complaints from critics that it was hindering competition by blocking the app. Neither Apple nor AT&T claimed responsibility for the issue.
Genachowski also reiterated yesterday that the agency would support net neutrality, the concept that all information on the Internet should be equally accessible to all users. Supporters of net neutrality say the wireless industry hampers equal access, as carriers can block user access to applications on a whim, and the use of mobile devices for Internet access demands fair treatment.
ConsumerAffairs.com regularly receives complaints on everything from cell phone service quality to billing problems for all four of the major carriers.
Darren, from Santa Monica, CA, wrote on August 26 that "I have been a Sprint wireless ustomer for years, yet for some unknown reason they have not provided me with a bill for over 10 months now. I have been paying this bill blind for that amount of time but no more. I feel I have been overcharged during most of this time but cannot place a dispute because I have NO WAY of documenting it!"
The formal Notice of Inquiry will be published on the FCC Web site soon, the agency said. Interested parties have 30 days to comment from the date of publication.