For the first time in eight years, the FCC’s Annual Mobile Wireless Competition Report has arrived with a clear answer to the question, Is the wireless market competitive? And the answer this year — just as it’s been the past eight years, even if previous Commissions weren’t willing to come right out and say it — is yes.
With that question out of the way, let’s dig into some of the numbers contained in the report. Beginning with the number 396 million, which was the approximate number of wireless subscriptions in the U.S. at the end of 2016 according to data provided to the FCC by CTIA. That’s more subscriptions in the U.S. than there are U.S. citizens.
Here’s another number: 13.7 trillion, which is the number of megabytes of data used in 2016. For comparison, that number was just 4.1 trillion in 2014 — an increase of 238%.
These two giant numbers say a lot about the health of the U.S. wireless market, and when you take into account the FCC report’s findings that wireless companies saw their average revenue per user fall by 7 percent in 2016, it’s easy to see that healthy and growing market is also a competitive one.
One benefit of that combination of increased subscriptions and falling revenue is that the number of households subscribing to wireless service (be it traditional mobile or smartphones) is narrowing when it comes to income — and if current trends continue, it’ll only get narrower.
There’s one more stat I want to flag, one that’s of particular interest to our group IIA. According to the Commission, 70% of U.S. rural communities are covered by at least four service providers. While that’s not as high as the 98% found in non-rural areas, it still shows that even in the traditionally harder-to-reach areas of the country, competition is working — particularly when you take into account the number of smaller and regional providers out there.
This level of competition is especially important given the high use of mobile broadband, meaning wireless service is connecting more people in rural areas to the internet, and with competition it’s not costing people an arm and a leg.
If you’d like to dig through the FCC’s 95-page report for yourself, it’s available at their website along with comments from each of the Commissioners. But here’s the Cliffs Notes version: the U.S. wireless market is healthy, competitive, and getting better every year.