Handset exclusivity - One year at the FCC

What has happened: In the summer of 2009, handset exclusivity was a hot topic. But since then, it has largely fallen off of the regulatory radar. The FCC, when it was still being led on an interim basis by Commissioner Michael Copps, said in June 2009 that it would take a closer look into the issue, investigating whether consumers were harmed by the deals, the most famous of which is AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) deal for Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. After he was sworn in at the end of June 2009, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said there were certain aspects of the exclusivity arraignments that troubled him.

What's next: According to Ruth Milkman, the chief of the FCC's Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the commission is still monitoring the situation, and has looked at the record filed in response to the Rural Cellular Association's 2008 petition on the issue. The bureau has "continued to gather information on developments in the handset marketplace, with an eye to potential next steps," Milkman said.     

The whole issue might be moot if Verizon winds up getting the iPhone, said David Kaut, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus.

"My sense is that they (the FCC) were hoping the industry on some level could work this out before they jumped into it with regulatory orders," he said. If Verizon gets the iPhone next year, "that will help take things in a new direction that will relieve some of the concerns," Kaut said, adding that the FCC is "kind of just playing for time on some level."

Handset exclusivity - One year at the FCC