Uncommon Wisdom

Jun 16 2009   11:33PM GMT

Senate FCC hearings tied to open handset & broadband policy

Tom Nolle Tom Nolle Profile: Tom Nolle

Obama’s pick to chair the FCC starts his confirmation hearing today, and there’ll certainly be a lot of inane questions and evasive answers. The primary focus is likely to be the national broadband policy that’s on the FCC’s plate and is even to be featured as a topic in the next open meeting. There’s been a lot of comment on the issue already, most of which ignores the practical realities of U.S. market demography. In any case, it’s unlikely that Genachowski would tip his hand on an issue the FCC needs to vote on. In short, it’s theater.

Another issue is more complex and potentially even more important. Open handset policy has become a major target of many since the AT&T iPhone 3GS upgrade plan was announced. There is little question that consumers would like an open handset ruling, but given the role that smartphones have played in mobile service evolution, it would be a major setback for operators to lose the ability to link a hot phone to their data service.

Could a 4G initiative be promoted without any captive handsets to ensure some quick ROI? Again, we’re not going to know at the hearings, though we may catch a hint of Congress’s own position; they can always pass legislation to overrule the FCC. The Senate is looking at exclusive deals between handsets and providers now.

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