Free Press files tethering complaint against Verizon

The blocking of third-party tethering apps violates FCC conditions on the 700MHz auctions, the group says

Verizon Wireless is violating U.S. Federal Communications Commission rules by blocking users from using third-party tethering applications on Android smartphones, media reform group Free Press said in a complaint to the FCC Monday.

Verizon, by asking Android maker Google to block third-party tethering apps, is ignoring FCC net neutrality conditions it agreed to when winning a large chunk of mobile broadband spectrum in 700MHz auctions in 2008, Free Press said in the complaint.

Tethering allows smartphone users to use the phones as a broadband modem for other devices, such as laptops, but Verizon and other carriers have asked Google to block third-party tethering apps, according to recent press reports.

Verizon, however, agreed to FCC net neutrality conditions on the C block of the 700MHz spectrum, when it paid US$4.7 billion for the 22MHz swath of spectrum. The so-called open-access conditions required the winning bidder to allow users to bring devices from other carriers and to run the apps of their choosing.

Verizon's push to block tethering apps "deliberately and unequivocally violates" the FCC conditions on the C block, Free Press said in its complaint. Various news reports said Google had removed third-party tethering apps from the Android Market at Verizon's request, making it difficult for most Android users to find and install those apps, Free Press said.

Verizon spokesman Edward McFadden said Google manages the Android Market. "Verizon Wireless does not block applications available to its customers through the Android Market," he said.

When it introduced the Droid phone, Verizon charged $30 a month for its tethering service, in addition to $30 a month for its unlimited data plan, Free Press noted. Many tethering apps are free and others cost less than $15, the advocacy group said. Verizon plans to charge for tethering on its LTE network, which uses the 700MHz spectrum, after a free trial for customers.

"Mobile broadband providers have a financial stake in limiting access to third-party tethering applications," Aparna Sridhar, Free Press' policy counsel, wrote in the complaint.

Representatives of Google, which had pushed the FCC to include open-access conditions in the 700MHz auctions, didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on the Free Press complaints.

Free Press asked the FCC to rule against the blocking of tethering apps.

Verizon had opposed the open-access conditions for the C block. "Having lost that policy battle yet successfully acquired the licenses subject to the policy, Verizon appears to have adopted a new regulatory strategy: simply ignore the federal rules once they have been adopted, and draft terms of service to contradict the federal rules with which it disagrees," Sridhar wrote. "If the commission's openness rules are to have any meaning, the FCC must act quickly to investigate Verizon's indiscriminate and arbitrary blocking of tethering applications."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Tags telecommunicationfree presstetheringregulationAndroidPhonesmobileVerizon WirelessEdward McFaddenGoogleconsumer electronicsAparna SridharU.S. Federal Communications CommissiongovernmentbroadbandVerizon Communications

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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