The FCC has completed an annual review that concluded U.S. wireless competition is in decline. Sure, investment in infrastructure has continued despite the recession, but as a percentage of overall revenue, carriers spent 6% less on upgrades in 2008 since 2005 – we can only assume the trend has continued two years later. Since 2003, customer concentration has gone up 32%, meaning fewer carriers are holding more of the customers. As an aside, the report also notes an increase in smartphone and data service adoption, but that’s kind of a given at this point. As a result of the report, AT&T and Verizon, who collectively claim 60% of wireless subcribers, may be blocked from future spectrum auctions. That’s good news for Sprint and T-Mobile, who might actually have a shot at some mobile broadband spectrum that just opened up.
The competition situation is one that is improving only recently in Canada. We’re already up three new carriers (Wind, Mobilicity, and Public), who will expand coverage significantly throughout the year, at which point we’ll see the little guys really put the squeeze on the Big Three. Small regional carriers in the U.S. have a bad habit of getting acquired, but maybe some new FCC rulings will give Sprint and T-Mobile the opportunities they need to really compete against AT&T and Verizon.