Lawmakers debate iPhone-like exclusivity deals, wireless contract disputes

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Lawmakers debated whether or not states should continue to have the right to resolve disputes between customers and wireless carriers, exclusivity deals for devices, roaming rules and other issues as they look to define a new regulatory framework for the industry.

At a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications Subcommittee, several lawmakers voiced support for a measure that would allow a federal standard to pre-empt state regulations for resolving disputes between customers and wireless carriers over their contracts.

Lobbyists for the wireless industry are in favor of such a move because, they argue, voice calls and data transfers from cell phones by their very nature cross state lines. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), the chairman of the subcommittee, said states should continue their role in resolving the disputes. 

Lawmakers also voiced concerns about exclusivity agreements for hot new devices, such as the one AT&T Mobility has with Apple for the iPhone. "I continue to question why a consumer is constrained" by such exclusivity arrangements, said Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).

The lawmakers also debated whether to require wireless carriers' roaming agreements to cover mobile broadband data instead of just voice calls. Rep. Henry Waxman, who chairs the full committee, said that carriers that received federal funding should be required to offer roaming service to other companies "on a just and reasonable basis." Small carriers, such as Leap Wireless, argue that roaming agreements are one of the keys to their survival, and that larger providers such as AT&T and Verizon Wireless often make it difficult for smaller competitors to enter new markets by either charging them extremely high fees for the roaming agreement or denying them roaming access.    

For more:
- see this Dow Jones Newswires article (sub. req.)

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