Rural America: I Want My High-End Smartphone

During this week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearings on exclusive handset deals and their impact on competition, organizations advocating for rural America came to the table with one simple message: Such deals shut out rural consumers.

Among them, Verizon Wireless, AT&T Inc., Sprint-Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA have a virtual lock on high-end handsets thanks to exclusive deals, argued Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, a consumer interest organization. Because these carriers often leave rural America to the coverage of second-tier wireless operators, that means the handsets they have locked up — like the iPhone, the Palm Pre, the G1 and various BlackBerrys — aren’t making an appearance in the sparsely populated zones.

He went on to argue that the deals also keep prices artificially high, meaning that even if smartphones are available, they’re often prohibitively expensive for the agrarian set.

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