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FCC vows to increase scrutiny of the wireless industry

FCC, Apple, iPhone,Sprint, Verizon, PalmThe U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously today to scrutinize various aspects of the wireless industry with several new inquiries aimed at consumer protection, the Associated Press reports. One examination will look at so-called "truth-in-billing" rules that require phone companies to clearly identify and describe charges on consumer bills, while another will examine whether there is enough competition in the market.

These inquiries would join several others under way, including probes to determine if consumers are hurt by exclusive contracts between service providers and phone makers (e.g. AT&T and Apple, for its iPhone), long-term contracts between subscribers and service providers, and fees charged to subscribers who leave a contract early, according to Bloomberg.

Exclusive deals are common among the biggest carriers but have recently faced strong opposition from rural carriers that say they lack the clout to make deals to carry the most popular phones, Reuters reports. Palm has an exclusive carrier agreement with Sprint Nextel in the U.S. through early next year (when Verizon Wireless will also begin offering service for Palm's smart phone).

The FCC has also gotten increasingly involved in recent weeks in a dispute between Apple and Google over why the latter's Google Voice application was rejected by Apple for its iPhone App Store. Although Apple told the FCC that Google Voice would duplicate functions already available on the iPhone, Google's software would also threaten Apple's exclusive iPhone contract with AT&T. Apple does not allow any applications on its iPhone that sends voice calls over the Internet, bypassing AT&T's network, without the phone company's permission, The New York Times reports. AT&T responded to FCC questions about this by denying that it told Apple to reject Google's application. (pdf)

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Helle Markussen

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