Democrats urge FCC to mandate interoperable cellphone networks

Four House Democrats sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission on Monday, urging the agency to enact interoperability requirements for cellphone networks.
Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Mike Doyle (Pa.) and Doris Matsui (Calif.), all members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said that interoperability requirements in the lower 700 MHz band of radio spectrum is fundamental for ensuring "continued growth, innovation, rural deployment and robust competition."
The FCC is currently exploring whether to mandate a single technology in the 700 MHz band. AT&T's cell towers use a different technology in the frequency band, meaning their network is not interoperable with many devices.

The lack of interoperability makes it difficult for small and medium-sized carriers to buy access to AT&T's network when their customers' travel outside the range of their own towers.

The FCC already requires that companies offer fair roaming agreements, but there is no mandate that networks have to be interoperable.
The lawmakers argued that consumers would benefit from interoperability requirements by gaining "greater choice of high-quality mobile devices at affordable prices."
The lawmakers wrote that interoperable networks would also help support the planned nationwide wireless network for first responders.
"As build-out of 4G LTE mobile broadband networks continues, the Commission should move quickly to ensure interoperability in the lower 700 MHz band," they wrote. "This will provide for a healthier wireless market to the benefit of all consumers, and will lower costs and increase access to wireless broadband services for public safety."
Tim McKone, AT&T's vice president of federal relations, said in a statement that the lawmakers failed to address the interference caused by adjacent television stations.
"That interference is the main reason there has been such little deployment to date by A Block license holders," he siad. "Forcing carriers to place interfering radios in their smartphones will result in less efficient spectrum utilization and, importantly, a poor consumer experience."


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