Top four U.S. wireless carriers increase control of market, review finds

WASHINGTON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The top four U.S. mobile carriers expanded their control of the U.S. wireless market last year, a federal government report said on Thursday, once again finding the industry is highly concentrated as a result of continuing consolidation.

The Federal Communications Commission’s annual review of mobile industry competition found the two largest carriers, Verizon Communications Inc and AT&T Inc, together controlled around 70 percent of both the nationwide market share based on service revenues and the most-prized type of radio airwaves.

Those two nationwide carriers, Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc controlled more than 95 percent of the industry’s mobile wireless service revenue, up from 91.5 percent the year before, the report said.

The FCC did not draw conclusions on whether the wireless industry was effectively competitive saying that such an assessment required analysis of numerous other factors such as prices or entry conditions.

The concentrated nature of the telecommunications industry has influenced the government’s approach to its efforts to auction off more airwaves to wireless companies as well as potential new mergers.

The FCC and the Department of Justice earlier this year expressed skepticism about a proposed merger between the No. 3 and No. 4 carriers, Sprint and T-Mobile, and the companies abandoned the deal.

Yet, when it came to products and services, the FCC’s report found the wireless companies are expanding their new-generation coverage across the country, improving data downloading speeds and allowing more and more data for the same or lower prices.

The agency also reported that virtually all of Americans had access to at least one wireless carrier, more than 99 percent of the U.S. population had a choice of two or more providers and almost 97 percent had three or more.

Those estimates have remained roughly unchanged in recent years, although the portion of Americans with access to five or more carriers dropped sharply to about 23 percent in 2014 from about 80 percent in 2012. The FCC did not specify a reason.

To view the FCC report, see (Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)