The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Jen Howard, Free Press, (202) 265-1490 x22

Sen. Kerry Invites Public to Weigh In With Wireless Concerns

Senate Commerce Committee to hold a hearing tomorrow on wireless issues


In a blog post, Who Really Owns Your Phone?,
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) expressed concern about the wireless
marketplace and invited the public to weigh in. Tomorrow, the Senate
Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the issues facing millions of
wireless customers.

Kerry, along with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Byron Dorgan
(D-N.D.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), sent a letter yesterday to the
Federal Communications Commission asking for a review of the exclusive
arrangements between wireless carriers and cell phone manufacturers.

Read the senators' letter:

"Consumers are outraged by both the high prices of new smart phones and the blocking of access to innovative features," said Timothy Karr,
campaign director of Free Press. "Senator Kerry is leading the fight on
Capitol Hill to make walled wireless gardens a thing of the past. It's
time we opened up networks so we can access the wireless revolution at
prices all Americans can afford."

Who Really Owns Your Phone?
By Sen. John Kerry

We've got a busy couple of days ahead in the Senate Commerce
Committee, but they're exactly the kind of days you've been fighting to
see for a long time.

First, we'll have a nomination hearing for Julius Genachowski, who
is President Obama's pick to head the FCC, the right guy to help
implement the President's technology agenda, including an open
Internet. As part of the Recovery Act, Congress directed the FCC to
come up with a comprehensive plan for building out broadband to every
household, and to do it by February of 2010.

We need to get Julius confirmed so he can get down to doing what the
President and so many of us in Congress know he is capable of --
delivering a national broadband plan.

So that's today. And tomorrow, we're looking at the wireless marketplace from the consumer's perspective.

There are now 270 million cell phone subscribers in America, and 18
percent of households rely solely on wireless phones to communicate.
That number's growing, and it doesn't take a big leap to understand
that the future of telephony in this country is traveling through the
airwaves, not buried in the ground.

We need to be focused on ensuring that the wireless marketplace
remains competitive, and that consumers have access to innovative
technologies whether they live in a densely populated city or a
sparsely populated small town.

Today, we've got a wireless marketplace where four companies account
for more than 85 percent of all subscribers. These large carriers
strike deals with the companies creating the newest and most innovative
phones, leaving smaller regional wireless carriers without access to
the latest technologies to attract consumers.

In fact, nine of the most popular ten phones are locked in a deal
with one of these big wireless carriers, and are only available through
one network.

What does that mean for consumers? It means if you want to buy an
iPhone, you've got to subscribe to AT&T. If you want a Blackberry
Storm, you've got to be a Verizon customer. And if you live in rural
America, you're probably using whatever phones are not locked up in an
exclusive contract rather than the newest technology.

Here's the issue I think we need to wrestle with: wireless service
providers are largely deciding what phone you can use. We don't see
that happening in similar markets.

Your broadband provider doesn't decide what kind of computer you can
connect to at the end of your DSL or cable wire. And forty years ago,
the FCC ruled in the historic Carterfone decision that AT&T
couldn't pick and choose which phones can and can't connect to its

Is the status quo the right model for maximizing innovation, competition and consumer choice? Or do we need a change?

On Monday, I sent a letter with three of my Commerce Committee
colleagues asking Acting FCC Chairman Copps to examine this issue. And
on Wednesday afternoon, we'll hear the arguments on both sides in our

But I want to hear what you think, so leave your comments below. I
know this is a knowledgeable community about these issues, and I'm sure
you will play a big role in forging a path to better wireless policy in
our country.

Blog post online at

Free Press was created to give people a voice in the crucial decisions that shape our media. We believe that positive social change, racial justice and meaningful engagement in public life require equitable access to technology, diverse and independent ownership of media platforms, and journalism that holds leaders accountable and tells people what's actually happening in their communities.

(202) 265-1490