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 has reportedly asked Google 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.