Harmless ingenuity or violation of contract? Tethering is no longer just a matter of opinion, thanks to the federal government.
Late in July, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Verizon Wireless had prevented the downloading of tethering applications. The decision came about 13 months after a digital rights advocacy group called Free Press filed a complaint saying that Verizon had asked Google to block third-party tethering apps for Android phones.
Tethering involves using an Internet-enabled cellphone or mobile device as a modem for a laptop or PDA. The “tether” metaphor refers to the link between the two devices, through a USB or serial cable or a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection.
Millions at stake, win or lose
When the complaint was filed, Verizon’s stance on tethering was clear-cut. Wireless customers who wanted to tether their phones to other devices had to pay for Verizon’s Mobile Broadband Connect service.
In other words, every customer who tethered using a third-party application was costing Verizon money.
Now the company has to pay the government $1.25 million to resolve the Free Press complaint. Verizon had a lot of money riding on this matter, regardless of the outcome.
A violation of neutrality
The FCC decided that by interfering with tethering, Verizon had violated the conditions attached to its purchase of a block of the wireless spectrum in 2008. These conditions intend to promote net neutrality, or “open Internet.”
Verizon’s counterargument said that third-party tethering gave those customers the ability to a disproportionate amount of data — an interesting twist on the open access philosophy.
Resistant to regulation
Thanks to advances in wireless technology, like the CLEAR 4G network, mobility continues to grow at a rapid pace. For whatever reason, though, some people find shortcuts hard to resist.
Or maybe the appeal of tethering lies in the fact that it gives us a chance to use two of our precious gadgets at once.