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Tuesday, September 22, 2009, 05:55 am PT (08:55 am ET)

AT&T weighs in against Net neutrality for wireless networks

AT&T, the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the U.S., has spoken out against recent statements by the Federal Communications Commission chairman in favor of Net neutrality.

While AT&T supports the principles outlined Monday by Chairman Julius Genachowski for broadband access, the nation's second-largest wireless carrier reportedly does not have the same feeling for the cellphone market — something Genachowski also mentioned in his speech Monday. In a new report from CNet, an AT&T spokesman is quoted as saying that wireless networks are different from broadband because bandwidth is limited.

"We are concerned, however, that the FCC appears ready to extend the entire array of Net neutrality requirements to what is perhaps the most competitive consumer market in America: wireless services," Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior vice president of external and legislative affairs, reportedly said.

Joining AT&T in showing concern toward Genachowski's remarks was Verizon. A company spokesperson said some of the goals outlined in the FCC chairman's remarks could have "unintended consequences."

As exclusive agreements like the one between AT&T and Apple for the iPhone have gained more attention, the FCC has begun an investigation into the matter at the request of members of the U.S. Senate. In response, Verizon agreed to unlock some exclusive phones for use on smaller wireless carriers in rural areas.

The FCC's concern in the matter has been with some smaller markets where major carriers do not offer service. Because the iPhone is exclusive to AT&T, a customer would be unable to obtain the device in an area where AT&T does not provide coverage. The Rural Cellular Association, a group of smaller tier II and tier III wireless carriers, lobbied members of the U.S. Senate for their cause. The association has argued that their inability to provide their customers with some of the most popular mobile handsets and smartphones makes it difficult for them to compete, especially in markets where their coverage does overlap with some of the big tier I operators.

"There are markets in the country where if you wanted an iPhone, if you wanted a Pre, you just couldn’t get it — from anyone," Genachowski said in July. "So one question is, is that consistent with broad consumer interests?"

In addition, the FCC has also begun an investigation into wireless carrier competition. The commission has said its goal is to increase competition, innovation and consumer protection in the market. In August, the FCC released a number of official notices of inquiry, announcing investigations designed to look into wireless innovation and investment, mobile wireless competition, and additional opportunities to protect and empower consumers in the communications marketplace.

The FCC has also shown interest in Apple's App Store approval process. Apple, Google and AT&T all responded to an inquiry initiated after the Google Voice application was not accepted into the iPhone App Store.

On Monday, Genachowski outlined six principles he would like to see implemented in support of Net neutrality. They include freedom to access legal content and to use applications of the users' choice. The goal is to keep the Internet a free and open place, and prevent Internet service providers from selectively blocking or limiting access to specific services, like Voice Over IP services and peer-to-peer downloading software.