U.S. wireless market is sufficiently competitive, FCC says

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
This year marks the first such vote under Donald Trump’s administration and new Chairman Ajit Pai (pictured).

The FCC approved its latest annual Wireless Competition Report, saying that it believes sufficient competition exists in the U.S. market for mobile services.

The 20th annual report presents data from 2016 and some information from early 2017, analyzing the figures based on “generally accepted metrics of competition. For example, consumer demand and output continue to increase, average prices have been falling, and service providers have enhanced the performance, coverage and capacity of their networks,” the agency said in a press release.

The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to approve the report, marking the first time since 2009 that “effective competition” exists in the market.

Of course, Democrats held the majority on the FCC for eight years under President Barack Obama and former Chairman Tom Wheeler. This year marks the first such vote under Donald Trump’s administration and new Chairman Ajit Pai.

The 86-page report examines a wide variety of data, from pricing trends and network performance to coverage in rural areas, service options and network investments.

“Competition continues to play an essential role in the mobile wireless marketplace—leading to lower prices, more innovation and higher quality services for American consumers,” the report concluded (PDF). “In this Twentieth Report, we analyze competition in the mobile wireless marketplace … and our assessment of various generally accepted metrics of competition indicates that there is effective competition in the marketplace for mobile wireless services.”

The two Democrats on the commission dissented vigorously, saying it provided a narrow view of the industry and failed to establish metrics to determine competitiveness.

Regardless, the vote comes as the U.S. wireless landscape may face a significant overhaul in the next few years. Federal regulators may soon have to decide whether to approve a merger between Sprint and T-Mobile, and major corporations such as Comcast and Charter are wading into the market.

This morning’s vote could be a major factor if regulators must examine potential consolidation among the two of the nation’s largest wireless carriers.