Today, I received a response from my senator, Dianne Feinstein to a canned email form I had sent to her about mobile carrier practices. The following is her response and my reply.
Dear Mr. Baker:
Thank you for writing to me about exclusivity agreements in the wireless market and your support for legislative reforms. As a wireless phone customer myself, I understand your concerns. I welcome this opportunity to respond.
Although the market for wireless phone service has become increasingly competitive, some consumers have not seen the kind of efficient, reliable, and fair service that they want. Rather, according to the Better Business Bureau, wireless phone service has become the Nation's most complained-about industry.
I appreciate hearing your support for open access to wireless networks. I understand the frustration of purchasing a mobile phone that is locked and then not being able to use it with a different carrier. There have been multiple lawsuits filed by consumer advocates to prevent wireless carriers from locking their mobile phones, or at least to force carriers to find ways to guarantee interoperability of locked phones between networks.
How the courts resolve these cases will impact what practices are allowed and whether legislative action is warranted. With our State's large business sectors and diverse communities, any change in our telecommunications laws needs to take into consideration a variety of competing concerns since it will have far-reaching effects.
Several states, including California, have enacted or are in the process of enacting laws to protect wireless phone subscribers. Nonetheless, federal legislation may become necessary so that all Americans are treated fairly. I believe that any workable solution for telecommunications reform should focus first and foremost on consumers and the public interest, while also balancing the needs of the network, service, and information providers.
Please know that I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind as the Senate works to address these issues in the 111th Congress.
Once again, thank you for writing. If you have any further comments or concerns, please feel free to contact my Washington, D.C. staff at (202) 224-3841.
Thank you for your response. I appreciate you giving some thought to this matter.
It's clear from your email that you've decided that wireless exclusivity is not an issue that deserves to make it into your portfolio. As the senator representing the Silicon Valley, and my representative, I must urge you to reconsider.
Mobile carriers in this country have taken advantage of consumers for far too long. There are a long string of examples where legislation, not court cases are called for.
- As covered in the New York Times last week, mobile carriers are making the us pay extra for simple services like voicemail. A bill to force carriers to allow users to set their own voicemail greetings, or one that forced them not to charge for listening to their service messages would go a long way toward controlling this out-of-control industry.
- In most other countries, customers are only charged for outgoing calls – much the same way landlines have worked in this country. In the US however, we're effectively double charged – for both outgoing and incoming calls. This practice, effectively allows mobile carriers to make twice as much off of each phone call. Legislation that enforced a "one charge per call" policy would go a long way toward straightening our backwards industry.
- As you may have heard, the FCC has just began an investigation of AT&T for potentially unfair exclusivity arrangements with Apple to the exclusion of Google and other VOIP providers. The issue is one of Net Neutrality: can AT&T control what data is allowed over its network? Users pay for access to "unlimited" data rates over the AT&T network. For them to disallow certain types of data because it competes with another aspect of their business is not only anti-competitive, it's censorship. I urge you to support the FCC in this investigation and take a strong stance on Net Neutrality.
Senator, as the representative to the Senate for the heart of technology innovation in our country, I ask you to take a stronger stance on these issues. Not only are the mobile carriers stifling other businesses, AT&T has now threatened to censor the internet – an act that goes counter to the freedoms this country protects.
Senator, as your constituent, and a citizen deeply engaged with the future of the internet economy and information access, I must stress: this is not a small issue.
The mobile infrastructure in this country is poorly lacking. Third world nations have done better than the United States in laying the groundwork for an efficient mobile network. We need to correct the course we've set.
This is not a matter for the courts. It's not a matter for the states. It's an issue that deserves to be addressed at the federal level – as indeed the FCC appears to have noticed. Please consider adding Mobile Phone Infrastructure and Mobile Phone Net Neutrality to your portfolio – it's an issue that your constituents in particular are behind.
—Joey Baker Saratoga, Santa Clara County, California
If you've gotten this far…
I encourage you to copy-paste this letter to Dianne Feinstein's email form.