updated 01:40 am EDT, Thu July 12, 2007
House debates cell laws
On Wednesday, key members of the US House of Representatives publicly lamented high cancellation fees for cellphone service, and the inability to use mobiles on different networks than the one with which they were originally paired. Central to the discussion was the iPhone, though its termination fee ($175) is not unusual for cellphone contracts. MarketWatch reports that Rep. Edward Markey, chairman of a key House committee on telecommunications, noted that customers who don't like AT&T's network can't move to another provider. "You're stuck with your iPhone and you can't take it anywhere," the Massachusetts Democrat said. At issue is whether or not the wireless industry can be more tightly regulated at state level -- a structure carriers say is unreasonably costly. Currently, states can oversee the terms and conditions of wireless plans but are blocked from regulating prices.
Supporters of Markey's views would like to see cancellation fees reduced, and the ability to use any phone on any network. This is commonplace in Asia and Europe, where laws require such openness. Whereas the European carrier Vodafone supports some 800 different devices, by contrast, the major American carrier Verizon is limited to 30.
Executives from US companies challenged the House committee, arguing that the industry is very competitive and that prices would be forced upwards if the government required network freedom. Sympathy was expressed for this view by a number of Democrats and Republicans, who were insecure about interfering with an increasingly profitable industry. "The wireless-service market is vigorously competitive," commented Michigan's Rep. Fred Upton.