Under rules adopted in 1994, each company is limited to 45Mhz of bandwidth in each market. That has restricted the number of subscribers the larger companies can take on, and the wireless industry has since lobbied the FCC to lift the cap.
FCC commissioners said yesterday that they would revisit the issue of the cap after a round of comments from the industry and other interested parties
"Since [the cap] has been enacted, it has been very effective in promoting competition," said FCC Chairman William Kennard, in a statement. "However, there have been significant changes to the wireless telecommunications market since the last time we examined the cap."
Every two years, regulators are required by Congress to revisit issues such as these, the commission said. The body will decide whether to keep the cap, increase the amount of spectrum allocated to each company, or stop enforcing it altogether.
If the cap is lifted, the subsequent spectrum freedom could allow companies to expand their subscriber base substantially. It also could trigger a wave of mergers in the industry, as companies join forces to boost their national footprint or reach within individual markets.
"We think that yesterday's action is an important first step in lifting the caps, which will bring important competitive forces back to the market," said Jeffery Nelson, spokesperson for the Cellular Telephone Industry Association.
The Commission also is soliciting comment on a request from the CTIA that it be barred from enforcing the spectrum cap altogether.