GOP FCC commissioners support handset exclusivity deals

The two Republican members of the FCC backed the idea of handset exclusivity arrangements at a House hearing, but the three Democrats on the panel remained mum on the hot-button issue. Meanwhile, Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse said that while he supported handset exclusivity deals, he wasn't opposed to the idea of looking into limiting their length.

At a hearing of the communications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, FCC commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker threw their support behind the deals. When asked directly about the matter, the three Democrats--Chairman Julius Genachowski, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn--declined to take a stand. The FCC is currently probing whether such deals harm competition, especially in rural markets where customers might not have access to certain operators' networks, thus missing out on the phones.

Tier 1 wireless carriers, most notably Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, have said the exclusive handset deals help spur innovation. Smaller regional carriers argue the deals limit industry competition by preventing them from offering the industry's hottest handsets.

Hesse, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, did not back away from the position advocated by large carriers. However, he said that it was fair for the FCC to look into limiting the agreements. "The legitimate question is how long the exclusivity periods need to be," he said "It's a fair question."

Genachowski has not indicated how long the probe will last. "I don't want to prejudge it," he said in an interview with Reuters in July. "This is the kind of thing that an expert agency should look at based on facts, based on data."

For more:
- see this Reuters article on the FCC
- see this Reuters article on Hesse

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