Retrieved for Ed Porpoises by Pat Darnell
Unless the government steps in, we'll see what the wireless carriers want us to see.
Google's deal with Verizon to give up on wireless net neutrality shows that the phone carriers want to have an absolute lock over the way the mobile Internet will run. And unless the government steps in, they'll run it for their benefit, not yours.
There's a ton of commentary on the Net about the Google/Verizon position on net neutrality, but let's just focus on wireless: basically, the two companies said that the wireless Internet is what carriers say it is. Carriers should be free to speed up, slow down or block any traffic they want. Implied in that, floating in its penumbra, is the desired right to lock phones, block applications, or install un-deletable bloatware on your phone.
This is a far cry from the utopian dream Google's Erick Tseng described to me back in January. The Google Nexus One Android phone, he said, was the beginning of a new era for U.S. wireless. You'd soon be able to get a Nexus One from any carrier, he said, and even switch them between carriers. Google would provide a retail channel to challenge the carriers. (For more on this see my column, "Nexus One: Google's First Step?") Android was freedom!
Google Acknowledges That Verizon Owns Your InternetBy: Sascha Segan
The wireless industry likes to say there's plenty of competition out there, and the four big players are cutthroat on some things - for instance, they're building 3G and 4G networks like maniacs. Problems arise when they start agreeing on things that aren't customer-friendly and acting like a cartel. As a consumer, I see that danger in fees for "preferential access" to their networks.
The Myth of the Unlocked iPhone
Yes, the Copyright Office recently said that you can unlock or jailbreak your phone, but that's a smokescreen, because the Copyright Office didn't say carriers have to support those phones. You could find yourself with a happily unlocked phone that no carrier will activate.
Once again, the specter of the iPhone floats in the air here, but in a slightly different way than it did in December 2009 when I said that "Google is not the messiah." Way back in 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone, pundits speculated that Apple might start their own wireless carrier to show the industry how things should be done. They didn't - they signed a perfectly conventional contract with ATandT.
Yeah, yeah, sure, Google (or Apple) could have entered into a wholesale contract with a 3G provider to offer service under their own name, but don't fault them for not doing that. No wireless reseller has made money in U.S., because the spectrum-owning carriers structure the contracts to prevent wholesale customers from skimming off their most profitable users.
Because there are no requirements for reasonably-priced 3G roaming or wholesale contracts, companies like Apple, Google, and my "10 Small Carriers With Great Phones" can't jump into the national scene and challenge the big boys, and the big boys like it that way.
The biggest threat to the major wireless carriers' business models comes from mid-sized spectrum owners like Cricket, who last week declared a $55/month smartphone service plan. Since Cricket owns their own network, they're not beholden to the bigger guys. But even Cricket is now potentially in danger; to go national, they signed a wholesale agreement with Sprint that could potentially let Sprint turn the screws on them down the road.
Starting to Feel Marginalized?
Cricket is a renegade on pricing, but they stick with the party line in terms of freedom. They control your access to the Internet. Like all wireless carriers, they say they're doing that to protect their network from predatory users who might download more than Cricket is comfortable with. I don't want to single out Cricket, of course - everyone does this.
There are reasonable traffic concerns involved. Carriers seem to be spreading the idea that their networks are horribly fragile, gossamer things ready to collapse at any minute under the load of desperate Internet users. That's why Verizon overpriced the Microsoft Kin into oblivion and why ATandT has been lowering their data caps.
I think that after six years I can tell the difference between greed and fear, and the whole data-cap thing looks like fear. They're not price-gouging as much as they're just trying to keep their pathetically overburdened networks from collapsing. It's a sad statement about the inability of these companies to provide the Internet capacity Americans demand.
But there's a world of differences between purely traffic-related restrictions and content or hardware-related ones. The Google/Verizon proposal reserves to Verizon the right to define what gets to be seen on the Internet, who we can see it through, and for how much. If we want any kind of wireless freedom, we can't look to the carriers; the FCC has to step in.