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Wireless Wars Become Frenetic

I'm in San Diego today at the big CTIA Wireless expo, and while big names like Apple Inc. and Dell aren't here, bigger names like Julius Genachowski and Ralph de la Vega and Lowell McAdam are.

I had the rare chance to sit down with Genachowski this morning. (See the full interview here.) As the chairman of the Federal Communication Commission, he sits at the crossroads of some of the most dynamic periods in technological innovation in this country. Wireless is where it's at, and with marching orders from President Obama to become more active, we'll be hearing a lot from him.

I asked if his agency was becoming more "activist," and not merely more "active." He agreed and said the FCC is becoming more pro-active, will take the steps necessary to foster competition, but also do what's necessary to protect consumer, and choice, and services.

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Yesterday's news from AT&T that Skype would now run on its 3G network on the iPhone is a prime example, he says. AT&T took the "voluntary step," but only after it received a letter from his office.

That's something about which I asked AT&T's Mobility CEO de la Vega about during my exclusive interview. (See the full interview here.) He said it was absolutely voluntary, that his company is responding to customer requests, period.

In the same interview, he confirmed for the first time that Google's Android operating system phones would be coming to AT&T. He declined to name manufacturers or a time-table, but about an hour later, reports surfaced that Dell's first US phone, running Android, would be coming to market next year.

It's a huge win for Google, which just yesterday signed a sweeping partnership with Verizon. With AT&T, T-Mobile , Sprint , Google's now got 'em all.

I asked Genachowski about Google's issues with Apple. That Apple claims it has merely delayed Google Voice from the App Store, and that Google called that a lie and said the app had been denied. The FCC chairman says he is prepared to take Apple at its word but that his office continues to examine the situation.

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De la Vega drove the point home that competition in the wireless industry is alive and well, and if it "isn't broken, it doesn't need to be fixed." He said his impressions of Genachowski are good, he thinks he's a reasonable, intelligent fellow and looks forward to working with him (de la Vega is the incoming chairman of the CTIA lobbying group.)

Meantime, net neutrality takes center stage on Oct. 22 in a major hearing in Washington. But even Genachowski concedes it'll be a long process before there's any changes. Seems to me, the more open the networks, the more room there is for competition, but what do I know.

Disclosure: Oh, and for what it's worth: Genachowski owns an iPhone. And loves it.

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