In "Europe and Japan, Wireless. The United States, Clueless" [op-ed, Nov. 21], David Ignatius argues that the greater penetration of cellular phones in Europe and Japan is a sign that government regulation has trumped free markets. His analysis is superficial and premature.

As The Post has previously reported, penetration percentages aside, the United States has more cellular phone subscribers than Europe, even though it's cheaper and easier to provide cellular service in Europe and Japan, where population densities are greater and more customers can be reached with fewer towers.

The foreign cellular companies have an important marketing advantage, however: Land-line telephone rates overseas are outrageously expensive, making cellular phone usage relatively cheaper there than in the United States. The high cost of land-line telephone also explains the foreigners' push for Internet access via cell phones.

That foreigners have adopted one standard simply means that the U.S. market, not foreign technocrats, will decide the relative merits of the competing technologies. For the time being it seems that the U.S. approach of allocating frequencies and letting the providers compete has tremendous advantages in sorting out the issues of cost, coverage area, service reliability, transmission fidelity and the size, colors and features of the handsets.

Minimal regulation will give the greatest success. Let me keep my phone number while I shop the competition for the best deal, and I'll be happier than if I had to rely on some Ministry of Nonexistent Dial Tones.


Columbia, S.C.