Verizon Wireless' perception battle over walled gardens

Earlier this week news came out that Verizon Wireless' initial edition of VCast Music prohibits mobile phones from playing MP3 songs acquired from other sources. That's because the phones use Microsoft technology to handle copy protection, and the new software proactively stops attempts at playing MP3s. Verizon is speaking out, saying the problem is temporary and not associated with any digital copyright restrictions. The operator is also adamant that it has no hidden agenda to profit from forcing customers to buy music through the VCast store.

It's not surprising folks are critical of Verizon because the operator's famous walled-garden approach to content is a thorny issue. Early on, Verizon was criticized for not enabling Bluetooth file transfer and serial port functions, which also resulted in a class-action lawsuit. Verizon claimed it was a digital copyright management issue, and it was concerned about the potential to pass along mobile-phone viruses and Trojans, not losing revenues from downloaded content. Verizon relented on the issue and has offered Bluetooth-enabled phones since mid-2004.

The operator has also resisted moves toward allowing third parties to directly offer its customers content, using the digital rights management argument again and the potential to pass along mobile-phone viruses and Trojans. I'm hearing that mindset may be changing as competitors enable it and customers are beginning to expect unfettered access to content. For instance, customers seeing ads to receive Jamster! content via SMS are trying to get that content on their Verizon phones but can't. And when it comes to the VCast Music store--MP3 issues aside--using Microsoft's Media Player still keeps the customer from downloading music from Apple's OS or its iTunes software.

For more on Verizon's wall-garden problem:
- see this AP article