Group claims Verizon's ban of tethering apps violates 700 MHz open access rules

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Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) decision to block access to certain tethering applications violates the open access provisions placed on the carrier's C-Block 700 MHz spectrum it won at auction in 2008 and has used to deploy LTE, according to digital rights advocacy group Free Press.

Free Press filed a formal complaint with the FCC, alleging that by blocking access to the tethering applications in the Android Market, Verizon is violating the open access provisions, which state that Verizon "shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice."

"This practice restricts consumer choice and hinders innovation regardless of which carrier adopts such policies, but when Verizon Wireless employs these restrictions in connection with its LTE network, it also violates the Federal Communications Commission's rules," the group said in its filing. "In Verizon's case, limiting access to tethering applications is not just a bad business practice and a bad policy choice; it also deliberately flouts the openness conditions imposed on Verizon's LTE spectrum."

Free Press called on the FCC to investigate the matter and assess any potential penalties.

Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon spokesman, said the carrier does not block applications in the Android Market and that Google manages the Android Market. He said that developers must adhere to their agreements with the app store providers and "there are ways to report and point out non-compliance - for example apps that are essentially network work-arounds.  Google can then decide what action to take."  Nelson said Verizon stands by its compliance with the FCC's C-Block rules, that the company has helped third parties bring devices and apps onto its LTE network through its Open Development Initiative and will continue to do so.  

"Free Press filed this complaint with the FCC without contacting us to discuss the facts about the issue, as the FCC rules for formal complaints require," Nelson told FierceWireless. "Free Press appears to be more interested garnering attention than finding out the facts."  

Representatives from Google and the FCC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, a Google spokesman confirmed to FierceBroadbandWireless in May that Verizon or AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) customers cannot download a specific tethering application, Wireless Tether, from the Android Market.

The spokesman for Google said while it is not blocking the app in the Android Market, it is making it unavailable for download at the request of wireless carriers. The spokesman added that if an application is in direct violation of the terms and conditions of a usage contract, a carrier can request Google make the app unavailable, and Google will regulate those apps. These types of apps likely violate the terms and conditions of data usage contracts, he said.

Verizon Wireless currently offers its LTE smartphone users free, uncapped smartphone tethering (subscribers are required to pay $30 for smartphone data services, but tethering is currently offered for no additional charge). The carrier has extended this free LTE tethering period but has not said how much it will charge for LTE tethering when the promotion ends. Verizon currently charges EV-DO smartphone subscribers an extra $30 per month for 2 GB of tethering data.

For more:
- see this Free Press complaint (PDF)
- see this Cnet article
- see this Wired article
- see this GigaOM post

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