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Free Press complains to the FCC about Verizon tethering

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In the war to control access to services over wireless networks, the Free Press, a consumer group, has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission because Verizon (s vz) has reportedly asked Google (s goog) to disable tethering on Android devices. Tethering applications allow users to turn their phones into mobile hotspots, a feature operators tend to charge extra for.

In the complaint, the Free Press argues that Verizon violates some of the open access provisions it agreed to when it bought its 700 MHz spectrum in 2008. Note that only the 700 MHz spectrum that Verizon is using for LTE will be affected by the open access rules. The Free Press says in the filing:

Recent news reports suggest that at Verizon’s behest, Google has disabled Verizon customers’ access to third-party tethering applications in Google’s Android Market application store. Plainly, Verizon’s actions in disabling access to the tethering applications limit and restrict the ability of users to access those applications. Because users download tethering applications for the express purpose of connecting additional devices to their data connections, Verizon’s actions also limit and restrict the ability of users to connect the devices of their choice to the LTE network. The Commission should immediately investigate this apparent violation of its rules and assess all appropriate penalties.

Perhaps in an ultimate irony, those open access rules the Free Press is accusing Verizon of violating were forced into place by Google bidding for the spectrum. At the time, Om speculated that Google was bidding for wireless spectrum in order to force the carriers to open up their networks, a feint that worked when the FCC made some of the spectrum open. This whole situation where Google has disabled tethering in Android phones so Verizon can charge an additional fee to access the functionality offers a great example of how far Google has backed off championing open access on wireless networks since it realized the importance of the of mobile web and Android.

11 Responses to “Free Press complains to the FCC about Verizon tethering”

  1. Jack C

    No mention of the AT&T and T-Mobile merger in all of this?

    Isn’t the underlying issue here with Verizon exactly why the AT&T + T-Mobile merger should be blocked. Carriers already have and throw their massive weight around. Further carrier consolidation would naturally lead to way more of this sort of behavior, which is unbelievably bad for everyone other than short term investors.

  2. DannyB

    I have an interesting situation. My water utility sells me metered water for washing dishes, watering the lawn, showering, and other limited purposes.

    The utility offers a Tasting plan for an additional monthly charge. Under this plan, I am allowed to use the water also for cooking and drinking. (Even though my water use is metered, and each gallon of water for cooking and drinking is delivered by the same pipes!)

    Dear customer: our records indicate that you have been using water for cooking and/or drinking. Please upgrade your water rate plan to our convenient Tasting plan that allows for this usage. If you continue to use water for cooking and drinking, you will be signed up for the Tasting plan automatically.

    I think the Tasting plan is just a fee that they made up. It isn’t a service they provide. They just want more money from me. I’ve got a workaround of using a container to obtain water from another room for the purposes of cooking and drinking.

    Some people shout: Theft of service!
    But what service? They’re already delivering water to me, and metering it, and I’m paying for it, and its delivered by the same pipes!

    Some people shout: but you signed an agreement and using the water for cooking and drinking is a breach of that agreement!
    Ask a lawyer about the term “unconscionable contract”.
    Nobody in their right mind would agree to this if they had any actual choice in the matter. Just because they have the power and can force you into paying this ridiculous fee or doing without doesn’t make it right.

    I say that this Tasting “service” is no service at all, it’s just a fee for delivering nothing at all extra to me. It’s a case of the utility wanting something for nothing. Yet people seem to think it is somehow wrong to use the water I’m paying for for drinking or cooking unless I sign up for the more expensive Tasting plan.

    In order to add legitimacy to their Tasting plan, the water company says that the Tasting plan is actually delivering something: it includes an additional 2 Gigabytes of water per month, giving you 4 total Gigabytes of water.

    But what if I only need 2 Gigabytes of water and therefore my existing monthly 2 Gigabyte plan is plenty? The water company already charges $10 per extra Gigabyte of water I use over the limit. So if I used excess water, it’s not like they wouldn’t get paid.

    Furthermore, once I sign up for the Tasting plan, they don’t make any distinction between water used for drinking/cooking and water used for other purposes. I could use 3/4 of it for tasting, and 1/4 for bathing/dishwashing. Or any other split. Or all of it purely for tasting. So then if I paid for Tasting and used only 2 Gigabytes of water, which I already had paid for, then why did I need the Tasting plan?

    I seem to be very confused about stealing water for tasting. Someone please set me straight.

    • Richard Garrett

      @DannyB …it’s said that ultimately all analogies ‘limp’ (which is to say, all analogies are flawed) — but not your’s, brilliant!

  3. DannyB

    Quick Tethering Quiz.

    Which costs AT&T more and which puts more stress on their network:
    1. A 1 kilobyte packet transmitted between my phone and the tower.
    2. A 1 kilobyte packet transmitted between my phone and the tower.
    (Please note in the case of (1) the packet was from my mobile browser, and in the case of (2) the packet was from my laptop browser.)

    If I have a 2 GB monthly data limit, which of the following activities will use more data on the network:
    1. Downloading 2 GB of data to my mobile phone?
    2. Downloading 2 GB of data to my laptop?

  4. Richard Garrett

    Is tethering truly being disabled via ROM software, or are the third party apps that allow tethering (like PDANet) simply being removed from the Google App Market? I’ve seen reports by people with rooted original Droids that indicate tethering doesn’t work after they’ve installed ROM updates to Android 2.3.x . PDANet – a USB tethering app – was apparently removed from the market in April, but apps that allow WiFi tethering like Barnacle (i.e., enabling the use of your handset as a hotspot) are still in the market. Meanwhile, other USB tethering apps also remain in the market. I say yay! to Free Press and I hope the FCC does the right thing. Meanwhile, I appreciate that you pointed out the irony of Google’s attempt to build some walls around the garden on behalf of its network partner. While I’ve found great value in using an Android handset, Google’s fragmentation and Verizon’s restrictions are making me think that maybe, just maybe, I will look at the true walled garden when its time for me to upgrade to a new handset. At least with Apple there is little doubt about who is in control and what their goals are.

    • Frank Earl

      It’s crippled in the market access. If you’re using stock firmware you’ll not see select stuff that Verizon has asked Google to not offer. If you’re running rooted firmware (stock or custom like CM7) and have Market Enabler installed, you can spoof which telco you’re coming into the market from and if you select something like Swisscom you’ll get the bulk of the apps that are blocked back available.

  5. what we need are a bunch of non-verizon branded LTE phones with generic(or with only OEM changes/additions) android on them. sold completely independent of verizon.

    than we can go to verizon for the LTE SIM card only.

    it should make no difference if the SIM is used in phone, data card, MIFI or whatever device the consumer chooses.

  6. beammeup

    How is tethering any different than my wireless router? I pay for internet service and then buy a wireless router and hook up all kinds of devices to share that pipe. I do not hear my internet provider screaming about me hooking my phone up to the wireless connection. It’s just greed. I pay for the phone and the internet data service. Whether I use it with my phone of PC should not matter.

  7. Stuart

    The tethering ban doesn’t make sense if you own the device. A device may have a feature or ability that is not supported by your particular carrier or they might charge a fee for it, but that doesn’t mean that the carrier owns your device. With GSM you can have a multitude of carriers but also with CDMA it is possible to take your device to another carrier. I want the features and abilities on the device I pay for, even if the carrier I have at the time doesn’t want to offer it for free.

  8. So is this a total blanket ban, or would you be able to disable it per account? In the UK for example only some contracts include tethering. If you are not allowed to tether then I think they are totally within their rights to ban apps that enable it, as you’ve entered into a contract not to use it, even if you don’t like it.

    • the verizon android phones have a built in tethering facility that triggers additional charges when used. the apps in question are third party apps that bypass the official verizon tethering mechanism. they allow for tethering without any additional charges, just depletion of the data bundle. many(most) people feel that they should be able to use their purchased data bundle for whatever purpose they desire. the FCC’s ‘open access’ mandate should guarantee that.