Rockefeller, Klobuchar & Wyden Respond to GAO Report on Wireless Industry

August 26, 2010

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, “Enhanced Data Collection Could Help FCC Better Monitor Competition in the Wireless Industry,” assessing competition in the wireless industry. The report was requested by U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), Committee members Senator Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). 

Key findings of the report include:

  • The total number of wireless phone service subscribers nationwide has grown from about 3.5 million in 1989 to about 285 million by the end of 2009. Today, nearly 40 percent of households rely primarily on wireless devices.
  • Since 2000, the wireless industry has consolidated and usage has increased, creating challenges for small and regional wireless carriers and benefits for consumers.
  • The four largest national carriers — AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile USA Inc., and Verizon Wireless — serve more than 90 percent of wireless subscribers.
  • While the industry has consolidated since 2000, consumers have seen some benefits, such as lower prices and better coverage.  At the same time, industry consolidation has created some challenges for small and regional carriers to remain competitive; these challenges include securing subscribers, making network investments, and accessing handsets. 

Statements on the report from Chairman Rockefeller, Senator Klobuchar, and Senator Wyden follow:

“During the last decade, wireless services have skyrocketed in popularity. More than that, they have fundamentally changed the way we communicate.  That is why I am pleased that the GAO found that over the course of the last ten years, wireless coverage has expanded and prices have decreased. But make no mistake, real challenges remain,” Chairman Rockefeller said. “In too many rural areas—such as places like my home state of West Virginia—reliable wireless signals are scarce. And across the country, too many consumers are baffled by the charges on their wireless bills. I call on the FCC to do more to address these problems so that all Americans have fair access to the wireless services that are an essential part of the way we communicate.”

“While the latest GAO report found some positive developments within the wireless industry, I remain concerned that Early Termination Fees or ETFs unfairly prevent consumers from switching providers, even when they are dissatisfied with their service or move their work or home to areas with inadequate service. I will continue to fight for ETF reform and I remain committed to bringing more competition and pro-consumer measures to the wireless industry,” Senator Klobuchar said.

“Wireless service has become an everyday necessity for working parents, an important tool for job seekers, and a lifeline for many seniors. We need to continue to ensure that wireless service is competitive and serves all of our rural communities,” said Senator Wyden. “The FCC needs to police anti-competitive practices including excessive early termination fees, restrictive contracts, and network practices that restrict innovation, commerce and job creation. Congress should take steps to protect this important medium from multiple and discriminatory state and local taxes that unfairly burden the wireless users who can least afford it. This report will help Congress reevaluate the wireless industry's impact on Internet access and the impact of the current regulatory framework on wireless services.”