The Federal Communications Commission’s 15th “Annual Report and Analysis of Competitive Market Conditions With Respect to Mobile Wireless, Including Commercial Mobile Services” makes no formal finding as to whether there is, or is not, effective competition in the industry” actually reaches no stated conclusion on the U.S. wireless market, in terms of effective competition, a surprise to some observers, who had predicted that the FCC report would declare the U.S. market “not competitive” in some substantial respects.

Mobile voice coverage would not strike most observers as being anything but competitive. The report states that 89.6 percent of consumers can buy service from five or more suppliers, for example. To be sure, the number of competitors is higher, across the board, in more-populated areas, as you would expect.

Wireless broadband coverage is relatively consistent with the voice findings, as 68 percent of U.S. consumers have a choice of four or more providers. The caveat is that the. competition is mostly confined to more-densely-populated areas, again as you would expect. Rural consumers clearly do not have as many choices.

The report does use the “Herfindahl-Hirschman Index,” (HHI), which is calculated by summing the squared market shares of all firms in any given market, and is a commonly used measure of industry concentration.

Antitrust authorities in the United States generally classify markets into three types: Unconcentrated (HHI < 1500), Moderately Concentrated (1500 < HHI < 2500), and Highly Concentrated (HHI > 2500).

In the mobile wireless services industry, the weighted average of HHIs (weighted by population across the 172 Economic Areas in the United States) was 2811 at the end of 2009, compared to 2842 at the end of 2008.

By that measure, the U.S. wireless market is “highly concentrated.” But observers will argue about what that means. Access services of any type are “highly concentrated” in almost every market, in the sense that there are typically two dominant wired providers.

Wireless markets typically have more providers than that, but even wireless is “highly concentrated.” Whether access markets, wireless or wireline, can be anything but highly concentrated seems to be the issue. There is a good reason why access markets traditionally have been “monopoly” markets. Until recently, it was thought impossible to have facilities-based competition in access markets.

In fact, in most markets globally, that will still generally be the case. Hence we see wholesale networks being built in several countries, the theory being that markets will not support more than one optical access network.

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