Skype To FCC: Let My People Go

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VoIP firm Skype wants the Federal Communications Commission to force cellular providers into letting people have more choice about how they connect to those wireless networks.

Professor Tim Wu at Columbia Law School has spurred Skype and the wireless trade group CTIA into a vocal spat that has resonated at the FCC. Buoyed by Wu’s paper on consumer choice in the cellular market, Skype has asked the FCC to do to wireless carriers what it did to the old AT&T monopoly many years ago.

EETimes said Skype wants the FCC to break open the cellular companies’ stranglehold on wireless networks under the provisions of the Carterfone decision in 1968. AT&T had to allow customers to connect to their network with phones made and distributed by other companies.

Wu’s paper discussed four areas of concern with regards to wireless net neutrality that he felt warranted more attention. One of those points, Product Design and Feature-Crippling, asserts the cellular carriers have too much influence over hardware design and what people can do with their phones:

By controlling entry, carriers are in a position to exercise strong control over the design of mobile equipment. They have used that power to force equipment developers to omit or cripple many consumer-friendly features. Carriers have also forced manufacturers to include technologies, like “walled garden” Internet access, that neither equipment developers nor consumers want. Finally, through under-disclosed “phone-locking,” the U.S. carriers disable the ability of phones to work on more than one network.

If such control were removed, anyone could use any device to connect to a wireless network. For Skype, it could mean a whole new world of potential users of their service being opened up to them.

The cellular companies aren’t about to take such a threat to their lucrative business model without a fight. CTIA blasted the petition Skype filed with the FCC:

“Skype’s self-interested filing contains glaring legal flaws and a complete disregard for the vast consumer benefits provided by the competitive marketplace,” said Steve Largent, chief executive of the CTIA in a prepared statement. “Skype’s ‘recommendations’ will freeze the innovation and choice hundreds of millions of consumers enjoy today. The call for imposing monopoly era Carterfone rules to today’s vibrant market is unmistakably the wrong number,” Largent said.

The Carterfone decision itself drew from the 1934 Communication Act. Cellphone companies that think thirty-nine years should distance them from Carterfone should keep the time gap between the Communication Act and Carterfone in mind.

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    The simplest fix is to change the qualifying period to begin the day of the Boston marathon. It will eliminate the 2 for 1 qualifiers and give people running Boston a theoretical advantage.

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