GAO says FCC needs more data on mobile industry

The FCC should collect more data about the nation’s mobile industry in an effort to better assess competition in the space, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a new report.

While subscriber prices in the U.S. mobile industry have dropped by 50 percent since 1999, the industry is also consolidating into a handful of large carriers, the GAO said. The FCC, as a way to protect consumers, should pay attention to the so-called special access rates that large telecom carriers charge mobile carriers for access to central switching facilities, the GAO recommended.

“While views differed among stakeholders, some carriers and consumer groups perceive certain FCC wireless policies as having prevented the entry and growth of small and regional carriers, though it is difficult to assess some of these issues without better data,” the report said. “In particular, many stakeholders outside of the top national carriers who we spoke with noted that policies for making spectrum available for commercial use, as well as policies governing some essential elements of wireless networks, favor large national carriers, potentially jeopardizing the competitiveness of the wireless industry.”

Better data on special access rates could help determine whether the charges hinder competition, the GAO report said. Several groups, including Sprint Nextel and the NoChokePoints Coalition have complained that large carriers have charged unnecessarily high special access rates in recent years.

The FCC agrees with the GAO that “data-driven analysis of the wireless marketplace is essential for pro-innovation, pro-competition policies,” said Rick Kaplan, chief counsel to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski. The FCC has taken steps to improve its data and analysis, he said in an e-mailed response to the report.