FCC may reverse the charges for cell phones
(IDG) -- The Federal Communications Commission may soon change the way cellular and wireless calls are billed.
At its open meeting on Thursday morning, the FCC is expected to propose a national system of "calling party pays" (CPP), a scheme under which the caller to a cell phone pays the airtime charges rather than the cell phone's owner.
In addition, the FCC is expected to request comment on a proposal to mandate that commercial building owners give wireless local loop carriers access to their rooftops to place antennas and other equipment.
Various wireless carriers have pushed these proposals hard. According to FCC staff sources, the five-member commission is expected to vote each of them out in the form of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).
An NPRM is a type of proposal that usually indicates the FCC is moving in a particular policy direction but needs to gather industry comment before making a final decision. It does not carry the force of law until it is followed by a formal FCC order, which usually takes several months and sometimes more than a year.
On calling party pays, the FCC is expected to propose national standards that wireless carriers can opt into, including disclosures carriers must make to both their own customers and any calling party who might not be expecting to pay for the call. A few U.S. wireless carriers already use CPP in scattered spots but without much formal regulation. CPP is much more widely employed overseas, while in the U.S. cellular, PCS and paging customers generally pay for all incoming and outgoing traffic to their devices.
Wireless carriers, including Bell Atlantic Mobile, have been advocating CPP as a way to make wireless "feel" more than ordinary telephone service, giving cellular a chance to displace landlines as some consumers' primary service.
But FCC officials say they will have to consider ways to alert callers - who may just be calling from a regular business or home phone - that they could pay for the airtime. Among the ideas likely to be proposed: an automatic recording, a separate area code for CPP calls, or a requirement that CPP calling plans always use 10-digit dialing preceded by a "1," which would imply a toll charge for the caller.
On the rooftop issue, FCC officials acknowledge they have been badgered by carriers such as Winstar and Teligent - who sell wireless broadband bypass around RBOC access lines - to force multitenant building owners to let them install wireless equipment. Meanwhile, the building owners' trade association, anticipating the FCC proposal, has been writing members of Congress protesting that the FCC can only regulate carriers, not private property owners.
"The question here is does the commission have jurisdiction legally, and if we do, would [mandatory building access] be good policy?" comments an FCC official, speaking on condition of anonymity. But he says the commission members feel it's safe to broach the rooftop access issue now along with a request for comments on whether inside wiring should be made available to multiple carriers as well.
Please hold for smart phones
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