Exclusive deals between mobile phone makers and carriers got support on Thursday from two Republican members of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which is probing if the arrangements harm consumers in rural markets.

The backing of Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker was the first glimpse into the positions of the commission since FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski told lawmakers in June the agency would examine deals such as the one between Apple Inc's popular iPhone and carrier AT&T Inc.

In response to a yes-or-no question at a congressional hearing on Thursday, the three Democrats on the FCC -- Genachowski, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn -- declined to take a position.

Exclusive arrangements are common among the biggest carriers but have recently faced opposition from rural carriers, which say they lack the clout to make deals to carry the most popular phones.

Sprint Nextel Corp is the exclusive carrier for Palm's Pre cellphone and Verizon Wireless has a deal with LG for its Voyager phone.

In August the FCC also launched an inquiry into the state of competition in the wireless industry, which is dominated by Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile, a unit of Deutsche Telekom AG.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc.


At the hearing held by the House communications subcommittee, the chairman of the full Energy and Commerce Committee, Henry Waxman, threw his support behind a bill aimed at ensuring an open Internet.

The concept, also referred to as net neutrality, pits open Internet companies like Google against broadband service providers like AT&T.

Advocates of net neutrality, like Google, say Internet service providers must be barred from blocking or degrading traffic based on content.

Internet providers say the increasing volume of bandwidth-hogging services like video sharing requires active management of their networks and some argue that net neutrality could stifle innovation.

Industry will benefit from clarity, consistency and predictability with regard to net neutrality, said Waxman, a Democrat from California.

Public interest groups, such as Free Press and Public Knowledge, lauded Waxman, who decided to become a co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act.

The bill was introduced by Democrats Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Anna Eshoo of California. There is no companion bill in the Senate. (Reporting by John Poirier; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)