FCC complaint accuses Verizon of violating law by blocking tethering software

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, June 6, 2011 14:00 EDT
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Verizon Wireless has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks for an apparent agreement with Google to block its customers from downloading Internet tethering software that lets users share their phone’s data connection with other devices.

Reacting to reports of the restricted service, media reform group Free Press — one of the leading groups that advocated for net neutrality rules — filed an official complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that accused Verizon of violating federal regulations.

“Mobile broadband providers have a financial stake in limiting access to third-party tethering applications. As noted above, many tethering applications are available for free or for a modest fee. Of the approximately fifteen tethering applications listed in the web version of the Android Market, the most expensive one costs $31, but many are free and the vast majority cost less than $15. By contrast, when Verizon introduced the Droid, it charged $30 per month for tethering service on top of its $30 per month ‘unlimited’ data plan.”

While the move is not surprising on Verizon’s part, it is for Google. Several years ago the search giant entered a bidding war for wireless spectrum licenses with no intent to win it, merely seeking to drive up the price to trigger regulations that would prohibit limiting applications and locking out software from mobile devices.

The specific regulation, Section 27.20 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations (PDF), states that companies “shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network”.

Although Google has not confirmed that they are blocking access to the software through the Android store, numerous reports have confirmed that this is indeed the case.

It is unclear, however, if the complaint filed by Free Press has any merit: Verizon could simply say it goes against their terms of service or the technical specifications of their network.

Still, the advocacy group persists in it’s claim. “Users pay through the nose for Verizon’s LTE service, and having done so, they should be able to use their connections as they see fit,” they wrote. “Instead, Verizon’s approach is to sell you broadband but then put up roadblocks to control your use of it.”

Read the full complaint (PDF).

(H/T: This Is My Next)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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