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The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has just issued an order that has essentially laid to waste efforts from Verizon Wireless to stop using your smartphone as mobile hotspot on the nation’s largest wireless carrier by subscribers.
The order in effect forbids Verizon to block its customers from using tethering apps available from the Google Play store hence effectively skirting the $20 monthly fee the carrier charges for using a smartphone as a mobile hotspot.
The order comes from a settlement agreed to by the FCC and Verizon that saw the carrier pay $1.25 million to the U.S. Treasury to end an investigation initiated by the government agency into whether the company has fully complied with the FCC’s “C Block rules”.
“Today’s action demonstrates that compliance with FCC obligations is not optional. The open device and application obligations were core conditions when Verizon purchased the C-block spectrum,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said.
“The massive innovation and investment fueled by the Internet have been driven by consumer choice in both devices and applications. The steps taken today will not only protect consumer choice, but defend certainty for innovators to continue to deliver new services and apps without fear of being blocked,” he added.
In a 2008 auction, Verizon bought C Block spectrum with the “understanding that it was accompanied by open device and application obligations,” the FCC said in its recently-released consent decree.
Particularly, these open device and applications obligations say that any licensee of the C Block spectrum “shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network.”
Verizon offers their 4G LTE service on the C Block spectrum. Take note that Verizon out of all four major carriers in the U.S. (against AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) has the largest deployment of 4G LTE in the country.
This means that owners of 4G LTE capable phones on the Verizon network will benefit most from this settlement as they can now use their smartphones as mobile hotspot on the nation’s currently most expansive 4G LTE network.
All they need to do is download tethering apps available on the Google Play store and they will not have to pay the $20-a-month fee Verizon charges to use phones as mobile hotspot.
The FCC has stated that Verizon cannot make subscribers on tiered data plans pay $20 to use their devices as mobile hotspot.
Nonetheless, this does not apply to users of grandfathered unlimited data plans on Verizon. However, the mobile carrier actually does not have a way to establish if subscribers are using tethering apps so it would seem that all an Android-using subscriber needs to do is to download a tethering app and use their phone’s mobile hotspot capability.
“This case was the first of its kind in enforcing the pro-consumer open access obligations of the C Block rules. It underscores the agency’s commitment to guarantee consumers the benefits of an open wireless broadband platform by providing greater consumer choice and fostering innovation,” US FCC Enforcement Bureau Chief P. Michele Ellison said in a statement.
According to the FCC, here are the conditions to this new settlement between it and Verizon:
Under the terms of today’s settlement, Verizon Wireless will make a voluntary payment to the Treasury in the amount of $1.25 million, and has committed to notifying the application store operator that it no longer objects to the availability of the tethering applications to C-Block network customers in the operator’s online market. Verizon Wireless has also agreed to implement a compliance plan, requiring that:
- employees will receive training on compliance with the C Block rules;
- future communications with application store operators regarding the availability of applications to Verizon Wireless customers will be reviewed in advance by legal counsel; and
- Verizon will report any instances of noncompliance with the rule at issue that might occur during the two-year term of the plan.
In addition, the company recently revised its service offerings such that consumers on usage-based pricing plans may tether, using any application, without paying an additional fee.
Verizon started moving away from unlimited data plan on March last year when reports indicated senior-level executives of the company saying that the carrier plans to move to tiered-pricing data plans.
In July of last year, Verizon stopped offering new unlimited data plans but kept subscribed unlimited data plans alive. At its implementation, subscribers had to choose whether to spend $30, $50 or $80 for 2 gigabytes, 5 gigabyte or 10 gigabytes of monthly data transfer used.
Verizon, with its move then, joined the ranks of AT&T and T-Mobile which also now do not offer unlimited data plans to customers.
This means that although subscribers now can use tethering apps to make their Android smartphones a mobile hotspot, they will still be paying based on usage if they are on tiered data plans.
The FCC has said that it initiated an investigation after it received reports that Verizon had “successfully
requested that a major application store operator block Verizon’s customers from accessing tethering
applications from its online market.” Presumably, that’s Google and its Google Play store.
This was complained as a breach of the FCC’s C Block rules which states that licensees of C Block spectrum should have open device and application obligations.
Meanwhile, subscribers of the three other largest carriers in the U.S. (AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile) who may be wondering if the FCC will also enforce such a rule on their carriers may not be so lucky.
The investigation and subsequent agreement between the FCC and Verizon are based on the C Block spectrum Verizon acquired and the rules that govern this certain spectrum block. It’s based on the Verizon’s acquisition of the 700MHz spectrum.
Verizon has promised that its legal department will review any request in the future for applications marketplace operators to block certain apps for its subscribers.
What Verizon must do now is to notify Google which operates the Google Play store that Verizon Wireless subscribers can now use their smartphones to download tethering apps which will enable them to be used as mobile hotspot devices on the Verizon network.
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