Net neutrality debate spilling into Apple's App Store

Apple unleashed its unpredictable and capricious iPhone app policy on the wrong player this time: Google.

A firestorm erupted last week when Apple removed a pair of previously approved third-party Google Voice applications from its App Store and rejected Google's own client. Apple's reasoning: Google's GV Mobile application duplicates features that the iPhone already comes with, such as a dialer and SMS.

Interestingly, the FCC is taking notice (because of Google's clout on Capitol Hill?) and requesting Apple answer those questions every developer has wanted to know for a long time: What criteria does Apple use to accept and reject particular apps? What is the approval process for applications? What percentage of apps are rejected? And what are the main reasons why applications are rejected?

As it pertains to the Google app, the FCC wants to know, among other things, why that app was rejected, what other related apps have been rejected along with it and what role AT&T may have played in the decision. The FCC said it is questioning these companies in light of pending proceedings over wireless open access and handset exclusivity deals.

Let's hope the FCC makes these answers public. It would be like finding out why dinosaurs really became extinct.  

It seems like every week we hear about a disgruntled apps developer mystified as to why a particular app didn't pass Apple's mysterious criteria. Like a king who doesn't have to explain the rules, Apple accepts one application, while rejecting another that does virtually the same thing. For instance, an application from Manomio that emulates classic video games available via the Commodore 64 home computer system was rejected earlier this summer by Apple because an of an SDK clause prohibiting interpreted or executable code. But the company pointed out that the App Store includes a number of applications that essentially use those same types of codes.

Place-shifting technology developer Sling Media finally issued the long-awaited iPhone edition of its SlingPlayer Mobile video application in May, but the app does not include 3G support. AT&T took the fall for the resulting controversy, contending 3G streaming would consume too much network capacity. However, Sling noted the service is WiFi-only at Apple's request.

A lot of bloggers are debating about who is to blame for the Google app removal--AT&T or Apple--but the fundamental question is: What sort of implication does the FCC's action have on app stores in the future? There is a net neutrality issue that appears to be spilling over into the downloadable apps world that will impact both apps store providers and operators. Will Apple, AT&T and others be required to adhere to strict guidelines before they are allowed to reject a particular app?

I find it all ironic. AT&T has been praised for moving away from a walled-garden approach when it comes to content by ceding control to Apple and basically relegating itself to an access provider (well, except with certain applications that impact bandwidth). That's really when the mobile data market took off, everyone contends.

So now, what is Apple to do? Make up a policy by the FCC's Aug. 21 deadline? Because I would be shocked if it has an "official" one in place. If anything, the FCC's questions may finally give stated, concreted guidelines to those developers who have been lost in the dark for so long. --Lynnette

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