Verizon agrees to limit exclusive handset deals

A few weeks ago, the FCC began to examine whether exclusive handset deals between cellphone makers and wireless carriers was bad for consumer choice. This was the latest follow-up to a request made last year by a group of two dozen smaller wireless carriers, each with under 500,000 customers.

But Verizon has beaten the FCC to the punch. The company announced that it will limit its exclusive handset deals to six months, at least for these smaller carriers, so that they aren’t prevented from being able to offer the cool phones — such as the LG Versa shown here — to their customers.

Here’s the full text of the letter.

July 17, 2009
The Honorable Rick Boucher
Chairman
Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet
House Committee on Energy and Commerce
U.S. House of Representatives
2187 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Boucher:

Last February, a group of 24 small wireless providers asked Verizon Wireless to eliminate long-term exclusive handset agreements with LG and Samsung. We agreed to do so for those small providers. Today I am writing to reaffirm that commitment and to let you know that Verizon Wireless is taking an even bolder step to transform exclusive handset arrangements. Effective immediately for small wireless carriers (those with 500,000 customers or less), any new exclusivity arrangement we enter with handset makers will last no longer than six months – for all manufacturers and all devices.

This new approach is fair to all sides. Exclusivity arrangements promote competition and innovation in device development and design. We work closely with our vendors to develop new and exciting devices that will attract customers. When we procure exclusive handsets from our vendors we typically buy hundreds of thousands or even millions of each device. Otherwise manufacturers may be reluctant to make the investments of time, money and production capacity to support a particular device. This of course constitutes a major risk for us, because if the device is not popular in the marketplace we end up with excess inventory and potential competitive losses. On the other hand, if the device does well in the market, six months is a reasonable time for us to earn the benefit of our risk and investment.

Moreover, we have no objection to small carriers having full access to any manufacturer’s portfolio of prototypes and products in development, without being informed which may have been selected by Verizon Wireless. Obviously our pre-launch product selections are proprietary and must remain confidential between us and our vendors.

Our actions today are consistent with our long track record of leading the vibrant, highly competitive wireless industry in new and innovative directions that benefit consumers. We would be happy to meet with you or your staff to discuss this further.

Sincerely,

Lowell C. McAdam

cc: Chairman Waxman
Ranking Member Barton
Ranking Member Stearns