A new FCC proposal could prevent the carrier lock-in that plagues US cellphone access, argues the agency's chairman Kevin Martin. The FCC head is set to propose that any wireless service using the 700MHz frequency being abandoned by analog TV must give customers the option of using any device and any "mobile broadband application" on the network. This choice would prevent cellphone carriers or Internet providers from carrying exclusive handhelds that only work with one service or deliberately throttle Internet phone calls to force use of more profitable cell services. Such artificial limits "hamper innovations," Martin says.
"I am concerned that we are seeing some innovations being rolled out more slowly here than we are in other parts of the world," he adds, pointing out that cell and Wi-Fi hybrid phones are more common in Europe and elsewhere but have only just come to the US through T-Mobile's Hotspot@Home. Europeans in particular are also more likely to pay attention to phones since they are typically unlocked in the region, making the attachment to the device more important than the network it uses.
A commonly-cited example of the American problem is the iPhone, which AT&T insisted must be exclusively available on its network for multiple years. An unlocked version would support AT&T's rival T-Mobile and would be more easily portable to Canada and Europe, where it could function with few if any changes.
Internet-related providers have so far backed the FCC proposal in principle, with Google and others hoping that a truly open network will let them develop hardware and software that can take advantage of easily accessible mobile broadband. The 700MHz band is especially desirable as the frequency covers a larger distance than EVDO, WiMAX, or other high-speed cell technologies.