FCC Releases 16th Mobile Wireless Competition Report

PCIA Reports: Last night, the Commission released its statutorily-required Report on Competition in Mobile Wireless Services, which analyzes mobile wireless service market conditions during 2010 and 2011, as well as during 2012 to the extent data are available. The report also considers “downstream” markets, including wireless infrastructure and backhaul, and how these markets impact the competitive environment. Like the previous two reports, the Sixteenth Report does not come to a definitive conclusion as to whether the market is competitive.

To satisfy increased consumer demand, the number of cell sites continues to grow. The report notes that the number of cell sites as reported by CTIA stood at 283,285 as of 2011, representing a 12% increase over the previous year. This growth is linked to service providers’ needs to expand or update their services. The report found that independent tower companies help create competition in the wireless market because, by leasing space to service providers, they facilitate market entry (because, by inference, new entrants do not face the expense of siting and constructing their own towers, making it cheaper to compete with larger competitors).

The major impediments to expanding infrastructure as discussed in the Report are obtaining capital improvement funding and obtaining regulatory and zoning approval from state and local entities, which PCIA discussed in its comments to the FCC. The reports cites issues raised by PCIA, such as problems with collocation siting, delays in DAS deployment because localities are unfamiliar with the technology, and problems dealing with sites that cross-boundaries or touch multiple rights of way.

The infrastructure discussion concludes with a brief discussion of the cost-effectiveness of collocation. Citing information provided by PCIA, the Report recognizes the significant cost-savings of collocating base stations on existing structures as opposed to constructing new towers. The section closes by approvingly noting that Section 6409 of the Middle Class Tax Relief Act “may further enhance the advantages of collocation” by requiring state and local governments to timely approve eligible requests for tower or base station modifications.