Cellular South, citing favoritism, ditches CTIA

Cellular South has decided to leave the CTIA, arguing the trade group's activities favor its largest members, namely AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless.

The small regional carrier, which operates mainly in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee, said the CTIA favors its Tier 1 members on issues ranging from handset exclusivity to data roaming. Eric Graham, Cellular South's vice president of government relations, said the CTIA has either been silent on many key issues affecting smaller carriers or has taken stances favoring the nation's larger wireless carriers.

"It's been apparent to us for some time now that there are really two interests that control CTIA, and while there are occasional opportunities for other carriers to share their opinions or offer feedback, in the end those opinions and that feedback isn't relevant in the decision making of CTIA's stance on various policy issues," Graham told FierceWireless. "It all comes back to the largest two carriers and their policy positions. And so, ultimately, in our view, CTIA has become a surrogate for AT&T and Verizon." CTIA is a nonprofit group that charges membership fees based on the revenue of its members.

Cellular South CEO Hu Meena had been a member of CTIA's executive board, but resigned last year in a sign of protest.

Graham argued that the CTIA would pay lip-service to the concerns of smaller carriers, but would not include those concerns in its policy work. In fact, Graham said sometimes the CTIA would be publicly neutral on an issue, only to work behind the scenes on Capitol Hill to undercut smaller carriers.

"To be clear, CTIA does a good job at what they do," Graham said. "That's part of the problem."

In response, the CTIA said it does not favor larger carriers. "We're very happy with the variety of membership, and we certainly think we're doing a very good job of representing their interests," John Walls, vice president of public affairs for CTIA, told FierceWireless. He said the organization listens to the concerns of all of its members, and takes them into account when working with its board and executive committee.

On issues where its members disagree, Walls said, the CTIA takes a neutral stance and tries to let market forces sort out the differences. "We have facilitated multiple discussions among our membership to try and satisfy all of their concerns," he said.

Walls said he did not think other small carriers will follow Cellular South's lead.

"I think it's one company making decisions based on what it thinks is right for its operations, and nothing more than that," he said. "We still have a very diverse group of members, and we have constant dialogue certainly within our carrier community of large, medium and small carriers, and each of them knows it has a place at CTIA. And we think we provide a wide array of services to those carriers."

Cellular South has been a vocal player in a number of recent policy dust-ups, including arguing against the widespread practice of handset exclusivity deals.

For more:
- see this Washington Post article

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