If you've been watching the blogosphere over the last few days, you might have seen an article or two about a "complaint" filed with the FCC over Verizon's block on tethering applications in the Android Market.

The complainant's argument goes something like this: Verizon purchased the 700MHz spectrum ("block C" of the spectrum) back in 2007, and that spectrum is now used by Verizon for its 4G LTE service. That purchase, ala Google and other net neutrality lobbyists, came with one seemingly large caveat: Verizon (or AT&T, or anyone who bought in that spectrum) could not "deny, limit, or restrict" the phones using that spectrum in particular ways: phones must be carrier unlocked, able to access all parts of the web, and run any software. At least, in theory. If you want it straight from the source, here's Free Press's (the consumer advocacy group filing the complaint) interpretation of things:

As a condition of Verizon's license for the C Block of the upper 700 MHz block, Verizon and similar broadband providers using the spectrum are not permitted to “deny, limit, or restrict” the ability of their customers to use the applications or devices of their choosing. Recent reports reveal that Verizon has been doing just that by asking Google to disable tethering applications in the Android Market. Tethering applications, which allow users to make their phones into mobile hot-spots, implicate both the customers' ability to use both the applications and devices of their choice.

These conditions were called "Carterfone protections," and since day one they have been roundly (and rightly) criticized as damn near useless in actually effectuating their purpose. Here's what Susan P. Crawford (a major supporter of net neutrality) had to say about them:

The no-locking, no-blocking requirements are hedged in by substantial limitations:  the winning licensee will be able to lock and block devices and applications as long as they can show that their actions are related to "reasonable network management and protection," or "compliance with applicable regulatory requirements." In other words, as long as the discrimination can be shown to be connected (however indirectly) to some vision of 'network management,' it will be permitted." (Emphasis ours)

Now, how do these loopholes reconcile with the neutrality provisions cited by Free Press? They don't, really. Actually, they all but cancel out the Carterfone protections. A carrier merely has to present the argument to the FCC that tethering (or any software/hardware modification) interferes with or harms the carrier's network management or security efforts, and provide some rudimentary vehicle for that argument - there is no requirement of proof.

Tethering apps don't stand a chance against these exceptions to the rule, particularly in Verizon's case. With the vast majority of its smartphone customers currently on unlimited data plans, there's even a hint of merit in Verizon's argument that it needs to control access to tethering to prevent end-user abuse of that "unlimited" data, even if that abuse is only committed by a very small number of individuals. That argument alone is a "winner." In the future, though, Verizon won't have unlimited data, so how's that going to work?

For tiered data plans, you might think things would get a little hazier, but "network security and management" provides another easy out - unauthorized tethering allows unauthorized devices (eg, your laptop) to access Verizon's network. Voila. It could also just as easily be argued that unauthorized tethering software could cause people to leave their phones with unsecure hotspots open, exposing Verizon's network (and that somehow the carrier tethering option stops that), or something else utterly unlikely. Basically, any argument Verizon could make that leads to the statement "... and this prevents us from operating and/or securing our network exactly how we want to" will hold water.

And the same points can be used against rooting, unlocking, or using custom software. It's a little depressing, really. But it's the present reality of the way the rules are written.

These arguments sound ridiculous and dodgy to us, but the FCC will probably eat them up, because they're all certainly possible scenarios. And then there's the millions the carriers spent in lobbying to get those loophole provisions worded just as they wanted them.

Is Verizon being kind of shady about this whole affair? Yep, and that's not cool. Are they within their rights to do it? Most likely.

Quotes from DSLReports

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://silverfang77.tumblr.com Silver Fang

    So once the again, the regular end user gets shafted by the big bad telecoms. Nothing new there.

  • Randy A

    I think you missed a key point. Verizon doesn't have to provide access for every device that you own based on one data plan. They are well within their rights to limit your phone data plan usage to your phone only. That's what they've done, read your contract. One device, one data plan. More than one device, tethering addon. This complaint is going nowhere.

    And anyone that has a problem with the greedy bastards being greedy need only to acquire their own spectrum and build their own network. That'll show them. VZW owes their shareholders increased profit.

    • David Ruddock

      I think they're missing the point, and your point is a valid one, but I'm saying if that's not the case, the argument they're trying to make can't even stand on its own merits against the current rules.

    • wpfn

      Way to roll over and just "take it" like a man. ;)

      • Randy A

        There's having a valid point and then there's stuff like this. Bitch about high prices all you want, bitch for included tethering, but a complaint to the FCC? Pointless.

    • Dr. Dan

      Actually, just about everything you have stated in this comment is patently false. Wired telecoms tried to do the exact same thing when WiFi first came out - they wanted you to pay extra for each additional computer in your house, or lease a WiFi AP from them. Do you understand the parallels?

      12 years ago, people like you who have a very poor understanding of the technology involved, were making the same exact arguments about WiFi. They were wrong back then and you are wrong now. There is no legal or civil recourse for Verizon to prevent a user from using a legal application on hardware he or she owns. It is simple as that.

      The author misses an important point in his post - specifically that network management MUST be application agnostic, for a variety of reasons. They can throttle users who use a lot of data, but they cannot throttle based on the contents or source/destination of that data, which would essentially make any enforcement of tethering "rules" illegal for Verizon to pursue. They have no way of knowing if I am streaming netflix to my phone, or to my laptop. Why should I pay extra to display the same resolution video on a larger screen? 99.9% of tethering users would have little to no impact on the instantaneous, or aggregate resource utilization at any given tower. Deviant or malicious users are an entirely different problem, and should be dealt with on a case by case basis. Such users would hardly be impacted by a tethering ban anyway.

      Finally, why does this topic make you so angry? There is no need for name calling. People who disagree with you are not greedy, they simply have a different view of how things work than you. I am a Doctor of Communications Engineering, so I have an intimate understanding of the topic. "Data" is getting cheaper, literally by the second. Verizon and AT&T would like to avoid this, and are doing their best to create artificial value by inventing a distinction based on the "type" of data being used. The capacity of the LTE network overlay will likely eclipse the capacity of the Cable ISPs by 2015. Why shouldn't the same rules apply to Cellular ISPs that apply to wireline ISPs?

      • David Ruddock

        The "special" mobile network rules are temporary, at least the recent FCC rulemaking committee seems to suggest that.

        I'm curious, what is your reasoning for the assertion that the network management must be done in an application-agnostic fashion? I'm not disputing that that is not the case, but I don't think that really applies here.

        Verizon isn't proposing removing software or throttling users of specific software - it's proposing to cut off the availability of that software. No one is suggesting Verizon is allowed to go into your phone, determine if you have a tethering app, and then remove it or block you from the network. The latter would only happen if they terminate your contract (obviously), which under the terms of service, they're entitled to do. They're proposing on-phone software that might prevent sideloading of such apps - which seems like a perfectly reasonable network management tactic.

        • Dr. Dan

          If you are asking for a citation, I cannot provide one because the notice of proposed rule-making is still in flux AFAIK. There is precedent from the Comcast bit-torrent case however.

          I think such application agnostic management rules are important because it is a very simple concept that provides a very power consumer protection capacity. We often find that overly specific regulation (especially with regards to technology) only makes more nebulous loopholes ripe for exploitation. Since nobody wants to go down the path of a tiered internet, and since wireless broadband is the future, I think such a simple rule would benefit everyone.

          Innovation and freedom go hand in hand. I want to make sure it stays that way.

        • JayMonster

          His assertion about it being application agnostic comes from the complaints against companies like Comcast that specifically throttled Bittorrent traffic and the FCC stating that they CAN manage traffic, but are not supposed to pick on a specific protocol since there are (theoretically) just as many legal as illegal uses for Bittorrent.

          The rest of the argument however actually holds no water. First of all, there are already accepted "differences" between wireline and wireless data which makes his whole "just like wi-fi" argument entertaining, but not on point.

          You are quite right that the loophole for "network management" is quite large, and while for those that think this "complaint" actually stands a chance of meaning anything will grasp at straws and say things like "it doesn't matter where the data goes"... well... it does.

          Verizon has to (in theory) allow any non-detrimental device on to their networks. The point of this is (again in theory) that if Google actually came out with a Nexus phone for VZW, that Verizon would have to allow the phone be used on their network, even if they didn't "approve" it (and assuming they can't show that it is detrimental to their network). Somehow people seem to think that means that you then "must" be able to do whatever it is you wish... and that is simply not true. Which is my long way of saying you are quite correct.

      • http://www.dualsub..com Randy A

        Nothing that I said is false. Let's review:

        1. There is nothing in the rules that state that Verizon cannot limit your smartphone data usage to the phone unless you have a tethering plan. Nothing. Go read the rules. VZW is well within their rights to require a tethering plan if you want to connect other devices to your smartphone.
        2. VZW limits your your data usage for the plan that you buy to your device only. Fact. Read the contract. You stating that VZW can't legally block tethering doesn't make it so. If you have a VZW data plan you agreed when you signed up that your data plan was for use on the device only. If you think they are wrong, sue them. If it's truly illegal you'll win and tethering will be free for all.
        3. Your Wi-Fi comparison doesn't hold water. Your home ISP is selling you connectivity for all of your devices in your home, VZW is selling you a data plan for the smartphone only. The history of Wi-Fi has nothing at all in common with this.
        4. I don't recall stating that anything makes me angry. VZW is greedy. If that makes me seem angry to you, well, that's fine by me.

        • Dr. Dan

          I claim they cannot legally block tethering because any method that they could use to reliably identify it would run afoul of wiretapping laws in many states. There is nothing they can do to prevent you from media shifting content from your phone to a computer that would also be legal. The contract is then unenforceable.
          I would make the argument that tethering IS using data contractually on the device - an application on the device is requesting the data - it is not like you are hacking a laptop PRL so you can simultaneously make multiple connections using a single data plan (which is possible). You are still limited by the fact that any device you connect to the phone still only has a single data path back to the tower. I disagree that the contract forbids moving data between the phone and a laptop. Is downloading pictures from my email "tethering?"
          The issue to me is that Verizon is trying to prevent people from using legal standards and protocols that anyone can implement themselves. It is not like tethering is Verizon intellectual property. As stated in the article, the FCC states that they must allow any application to run on their network. Well, a SOCKS server is an application. SSH is an application. If they want to create their own application that is super user-friendly, or has cool special features and then charge for it, they are free to do so.
          Finally, there is no reason to believe that application based traffic management is any more effective than application agnostic traffic management. One is a general case of the other, so why not simply implement the general case?

        • JayMonster

          You claim they would run afoul of wiretapping laws... yet by using your own Comcast-Bittorrent case law, it is generally accepted that the packet headers (not the content) can be used for traffic management. So nope, no running afoul of wiretapping laws.

          Just because you claim there is no way to prevent media shifting, does this make it true, nor does it make the contract unenforceable just because you wish it to be.

          You can make the argument that tethering is using data contractually, but you would be wrong. I understand your justifications, but the fact that they spell it out specifically that this is NOT an allowed practice makes your rationalization moot.

          You make some great assertions, and over time (much like your initial comments about wi-fi points in home and additional TVs in the home being hooked to cable) there may become enough justification to attempt to get them to change this practice. But until that time, Randy is right that these terms are quiet clearly spelled out, and whether we think it is fair or not, those are the terms of service we have currently accepted in our contracts, and thanks to already accepted comments by the FCC, they see wireless as a "finite resource" that needs to be allowed extra control over traditional landline, and that extra control will make it even harder for these terms to change.

      • Frank C.

        I agree. The FCC should require Verizon to allow free tethering on tiered plans, although shockingly it seems that it's controlled by the corporations they're supposed to regulate. If Verizon were forced to do this, then other companies would have to follow suit, and pretty soon, everyone would be able to get what they need without having to shell extra for what they don't need. If this sort of thing were allowed, horror of horrors, the existing "transportation" paradigm (and the media's trough of car-commercial bucks) would be eventually threatened by an actually sane alternative such as SkyTran http://www.skytran.net/phpsite/home/home.html. So, the masters of the universe will unleash nuclear war before allowing free tethering.

  • Tyler

    Well at least there is Amazon for that, I've randomly seen one tethering app there already. And they'll never be able to stop it because there are other sites to get them from.

  • http://mindmirror007.blogspot.com alchemist007

    I was with you until you said -

    "unauthorized tethering allows unauthorized devices (eg, your laptop) to access Verizon’s network. Voila"

    Lost interest at "Voila"! There is no authorized/unauthorized "access" "to" Verizon network, Period!

    Just cause you drink out of your tap doesn't mean you can harm your water tank!

    • David Ruddock

      That's a fine analogy for tiered data, but that's definitely not how Verizon sees it, and it's easily spun to be an "unauthorized" device use.

      I'll give you an analogy back - you pay for use of the city water lines for your tap, bathroom, etc. You can use as much as you want (let's say that's how it actually worked). Do you think filling up a water truck once a month is an "authorized" use? You paid for access to a network via a certain device (a phone), just because you can drink from the water hole doesn't mean you fill your pool with it.

      And how can you say it doesn't "harm" anyone when the tethering consumes far more throughput for longer durations than any activity on your phone would ever be reasonably capable of doing?

      I'm not saying that the abuse is *truly* damaging Verizon's network, but the argument itself is a solid one.

      • Dr. Dan

        ...People in the suburbs fill up large pools in their yards from the hose all the time. There is nothing illegal about it - is just costs a lot of money.
        Tethering does not have the network impact you think it does anyway, especially for LTE networks. It works out being roughly the same in terms of spreading codes and carrier allocation if I am watching a youtube video or simply constantly refreshing a web page since most of the time the resources are un-used to begin with. A cellular network does not work like a water network - unused resources at one tower don't get diverted to a busy one. In fact, a person streaming HD video right next to a tower will impact the network less than someone who is checking their email at the edge of the tower radius.
        Pretty much all the practical/technological arguments being proposed against tethering are exaggerated or false. You average person knows more about special relativity than they do about wireless communications networks, so they can spread as much misinformation as they want. Don't buy into it.

        • David Ruddock

          No one's suggesting that a cell network works like a water network on a technical level, it's an illustration. And I'm not making assertions as to the "damage" this could actually cause. The practical/$ implications aren't really relevant, Verizon is going to scream bloody murder just as the cable companies did in the 80's/90's when they fought (and won) the war on descramblers and black market cable, regardless of how much money they're actually losing.

          Also, if you want to go "application agonstic," what's to stop Verizon from implementing hardware-level tether monitoring, and simply blocking the traffic if it doesn't match up to a database of authorized accounts? That's agnostic of any application - it merely pertains to a *function* of the device (going into ad-hoc networking mode).

          You're clearly passionate about a neutral mobile web, and kudos, I think it's a good idea, too, but I think your suggestion about the way rules sway on this stuff is unduly optimistic and colored.

        • Dr. Dan

          Hardware level tether monitoring seems like more effort than it would be worth. There would be no point in spending millions to develop a technology that hackers would likely crack within 24 hours. /sarcasm

          And yes, they are free to try to game the system. Many a greater company has been reduced to obsolescence over smaller distractions. That is a bridge worth discussing if/when it ever happens.

          Either way, the spirit of the FCC rules seem to be in favor of this very sort of thing for sure. I would not be surprised at all if the FCC tells them to prove that need-based traffic management is insufficient. It seems pretty clear that this is motivated by Verizon's desire to charge for the service, as opposed to network management - which is exactly what the FCC was trying to prevent with the new rules it would seem.

          I guess my point boils down to "they are free to try to stop tethering, but there is not a whole lot they can really do about it."

        • David Ruddock

          Er, millions? All it has to do is monitor the status of the ad-hoc Wi-Fi transmit on a device. It's a simple 1|0 question. And I'm sure it could easily be implemented in a way that's compatible with all Android devices as part of Verizon's carrier-ware.

          We also have some rumor-evidence that manufacturers are implementing such features on VZW-bound Android devices, whether or not it's true or being utilized, we have no idea.

          There's no established proof standard in the regulatory rules - and the fact that the rules already carve out special exceptions for mobile networks makes it pretty obvious that the FCC has already bent to the will of the carriers.

          And I haven't read anything saying network management has to be the primary purpose, so much as a factor that was a significant point in the consideration of implementing whatever restriction the carrier is trying to pitch. Your logic is that it's unlikely to hurt Verizon when people tether, and thus it can't be about network management - because the network is relatively unaffected or burdened by tethering activity, and so the excuse is inadequate.

          Verizon can show all sorts of information about how its network would be affected by "rampant" unauthorized tethering, and they can make it look scary and expensive and tragic for the company. I'm pretty sure the FCC doesn't want to discourage the rollout of what will likely be the nation's first near full-coverage 4G network.

  • http://www.ericcamil.com Eric

    I wish I could say I was writing this from a tethered laptop, except Sprint..wait Sprint isn't on this bandwagon. Never mind.

  • randy

    What I find bad in this is Verizon's attempt to blame Google. It will backfire on them. Other means of acquiring the apps will emerge.

  • Marvin

    What the customer wants and what the carriers want is apparently different. A customer that signs and agrees to the terms of the carrier are at their mercy. Verizon doesn't want their "customers" using their network to stream data to other devices, unless you pay for that option. I don't understand why this is so complicated for people to fathom. If you don't like it, go to another carrier or pay the tethering fee. Yes, it's our data since we pay for it. But read the terms. It's quite simple. Most people have internet access in their homes. There is WiFi at every major restaurant or service place. It's just people who try to find a loop hole to avoid paying for something. Now, if the carrier did not object to users streaming their data, then do as you please.

    • Steve

      Which carrier would that be? They are all the same. Unless people get motivated to fight them they will have you paying for every use of the same data. Why are you allowed to visit youtube for the same cost as google? Because some people were motivated enough to fight for that right rather than just pacively agreeing with whatever the network providers desired. No we don't like it and no we don't want to just agree with it or get out.

      • JayMonster

        You have that right, first because ISP were trying to change the "rules" already in place, and second because they thought they could get away with charging the providers (ie.YouTube/Google) as well and THAT is where the wheels fell off. They tried to hit the guys with more lobbying dollars, who hit back. It was far from the grass roots victory you seem to think it was.

  • Jack

    Okay... so let's say that using your laptop to access their network does, theoretically, cause a security issue.

    How does $20 mitigate the security risk?

    TSA: Sorry, sir, we can't let you through the security checkpoint without being screened. We are responsible for the safety and security of this airport and these passengers.

    Passenger: Hmm...

    TSA: For $20 I'll let you on through.

    Passenger: Hmm...

    • JayMonster

      Because, an authorized app will have the pepper safeguards built into it whereas they cannot ensure the same is true of third party apps. (I don't actually believe this, just saying that this will be their answer)

      • Woo

        I've got to say JayMonster after seeing your comments throughout that I am confused about (at least) 2 things. 1: Why would the contract you signed affect current law? If it is found to be illegal, then it is. A lawsuit is the only way to determine the legality of a contract. I see tethering just like the phone service. No one would think it was acceptable to pay an extra fee to use the speaker phone. Why is showing data on my iPad screen any different? I am still limited by my data contract size. 2: How come T-Mobile can allow free tethering without the wheels falling off the bus? I mean, if it's such a security risk then they should be having tons of issues, but they're not.

        • JayMonster

          1. The contract is what is in effect. I am not saying it affects current law, so much as it is an agreement... just because one thinks that is how it should be doesn't mean it is illegal.

          "I see tethering just like the phone service."

          This is exactly what I mean. Just because that is how you see it, doesn't mean that it is correct.

          But to answer your question, an iPad, a laptop, etc can consume and process (render) more data than a typical smartphone. You are not only limited by what the throughput of the device is, but what it can do with it, and how fast.

          Remember back when Palm Treos and Windows Mobile phones ruled the landscape? They (at least later ones) had 3G, but did not have the capacity to do much with it, thus the amouont of data consumers used was markedly less. Well the same goes for Netbooks, etc. They can handle and process Flash, Full Web pages, etc... at speeds far faster than a SmartPhone. This is (in theory) why the carriers charge more for this.

          T-Mobile, first of all no longer offers true unlimited data, you get 2 GB, and then throttled. But even before that, they probably could have done it easier simply because they have far fewer users.

  • Mes215

    I understand your point, but even our "unlimited" data plans are not really unlimited. Consume more than 5Gb of data per month and see what happens. Free Press should add to their argument, that so long as end users do not exceed their 5GB "unlimited" data, they are withing their right to do with it as they wish, and Verizon, by blocking these apps is infringing on their rights, or something to that effect.

  • Madiom

    Show Verizon you mean business and change to Sprint. As a consumer you have options.
    sent from EVO on Sprint.

  • Topgun

    Easy solution...go to Sprint. EVO 3d FTW. And Sprints unlimited plan is actually truelly unlimited. One month I used almost 20 gigs. (WiMAX FTW) and never heard a peep from Sprint.

  • TheNinja

    Sprint is indeed unlimited. I am wirelessly connected to my laptop at work on 4G everyday ( rooted Evo ). I pay for unlimited data, and I have no qualms about not paying them the extra $30 a month they want for hotspot capabilities. It's my data, and I'll use it how I want. Fwiw, I average about 2-3 gb a month. Not exactly abusing anything imho.

  • dually

    As regulated utilities holding spectrum "rights of way" licences, the carriers should not be contriving how to screw us out of occasional tethering, but rather should focus on being dumb data pipes. Period.

    • JayMonster

      1 st of all, they have no desire to be just a dumb pipe.

      2nd- the stockholders are only happy if they are containing more ways to separate you from your hard earned cash. Even if some CEO came along and agreed with you, he would be out after the first quarterly earnings call.

  • Dually

    Regardless of what the carriers' desire is to be a dumb pipe or not,

    that is what they are obligated to be by choosing to operate in a regulated and protected industry.

    If the carriers want to make lots of money instead of having regulation and protection then they should get into a less regulated and protected industry such as toy manufacturing or start up a tech company.

    • JayMonster

      and regardless of what you want them to do, even in a regulated industry ( and the regulations are different in wireless Uncle Sam isn't floating the bill like it did with wire lines 100 years ago), that days they can't make a profit or charge you for tethering. Do I like it? Of course not, but that doesn't change the reality of it.

      All one has to do is look at the Comcast-NBC merger and see where the current Congress is going and what sort of regulations they are going to put up for business (none). The days of public interest working over corporate greed, are now relegated to history books. Being a regulated industry now only means they have to pass the lube before they screw you.

      • Dually

        Good point. Regulation ain't working the way it's supposed to.

        • John d

          Im not a computor wiz by any means. But i think its as simple as verizon and at&t also provide home landline services. In tough times like people are in now their always looking to back anywhere they can. People are getting rid of their home phones and these companies are loosing profits. Then you have peoplewho dont use a lot of internet at home so they figure the little they do use it why not just use their phone. Now their loosing phone & internet profits from the customer. If they block tethering it forces people to at least keep their home internet. Boils down to let screw the customer. Maybe if prices were fair people would not be doing this. As for me, i just started tethering because i dont use my home internet much and to pay close to $50 a month is ridiculous. Im allready paying for unlimited data so why not put it to good use. Fuk off verizon, at&t, and comcast. Catch me if u can

  • car2429

    so what if you pay for an app... its not free its a purchase for your phone to tether to another device? just wondering