June 16, 2009 | by Andrew Kameka
Four U.S. Senators have asked the FCC to explore how carrier-exclusivity affects cell phone choice among consumers. Mr. Senators, let me you save you and the FCC a lot of time and money – of course it affects consumer choice!
T-Mobile would not have as many people purchasing the G1 if it were available on another network. AT&T would not have such a large consumer base were it not for their iPhone exclusivity. The same goes for the new Sprint subscribers who jumped ship to get the Palm Pre. Smartphone purchasers are attracted to phones first, not carriers, so having a handset tied to one network is going to affect consumer choice in the most obvious fashion.
How happy are you about cell phone competition? Would you be on T-Mobile if you could have a G1 on AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon? What about smaller carriers in your area?
Personally, I would not have gotten the G1 had it been on Sprint’s network (Sprint’s lack of GSM obviously makes this a non-issue). Signal strength at my home, job, and school were horrible when I was a Sprint subscriber, so I’d have been reluctant to sign-up with them again. (*Carrier performance varies greatly by market and area)
The U.S. Court of Appeals have found that exclusivity harms competition, but I’m not sure the FCC will reach the same conclusion. I wouldn’t be surprised if they responded with something along the lines of, “Yes, exclusivity affects consumer choice, but there are enough alternatives to not warrant us getting involved.”
The argument will be that each carrier has its own comparable smartphone, thus consumers have many choices. As Android continues to infiltrate more carriers in more devices, that statement will have even more weight considering Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and allegedly Palm’s webOS are available across platforms.
If the U.S. government really wants to explore consumer choice, do something about the early termination fees or upgrade costs that make getting the a new phone more challenging for consumers.