De la Vega on the defensive: U.S. wireless industry is competitive

SAN DIEGO--Immediately following FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's keynote address at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment conference today, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega took the stage and defended the U.S. wireless industry's competitive positioning, saying that the U.S. indeed is a competitive market with 173 wireless carriers and one of the the lowest airtime price-per-minute ratios of any country in the world. In the U.S. wireless airtime is "60 percent lower than average," he said.

But not only are there lots of U.S. carriers, giving the majority of customers as many as three wireless providers to choose from in a market, there are also lots of device makers. De la Vega said that U.S. customers can choose from 630 devices from 30 companies. Of those devices, 84 percent are Web enabled and 89 percent are data capable.  

De la Vega also defended the vast amount of money that the wireless carriers have invested in their wireless networks. "The U.S. carriers have invested $120 billion in the last five years, and in 2008 U.S. carriers invested $20 billion in their networks, and that doesn't include investment in spectrum."

But where de la Vega became particularly impassioned was when he talked about the wireless carriers' recent spectrum purchases, and the impact potential net neutrality rules may have on those investments. He noted that in 2006 wireless carriers spent $14 billion in AWS spectrum and in 2008 they spent $19 billion for 700 MHz spectrum. 

Of course, AT&T has a lot to lose if the commission imposes net neutrality rules on wireless carriers. During the 700 MHz spectrum auction, the carrier paid extra for spectrum that did not carry open-access stipulations. If the FCC imposes net neutrality regulations, the move would essentially negate the premium AT&T paid by retroactively placing similar open-access stipulations on AT&T's network.

"The rules should not change after bidding is complete," de la Vega said. "These rules should not change now after the money has been spent but before spectrum has been put to use. What does this say about the integrity of the auction?"

For more:
- see this AT&T release

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