FCC Complaint Filed Against Verizon's Tethering Ban

Contributing Writer

Unbeknownst to this paying subscriber until now, Verizon has silently asked Google to remove third-party apps from the Android Market that allows users to unofficially tether their Android smartphone without subscribing to Verizon's Mobile Broadband Connect plan.

The news arrives after Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" users of the Wireless Tether app began pulling up a Verizon "roadblock" telling the user to subscriber to its $20 for 2 GB monthly plan, preventing additional internet access. Android 2.2 "Froyo" users also discovered that native tethering was disabled when the update rolled out to Verizon-based Android phones last year.

Now additional third-party tethering apps have reportedly fallen off the Android Market, and the consumer group called Free Press has filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission claiming that the Big Red wireless carrier is violating some of the open access provisions it agreed to when it purchased the 700 MHz spectrum back in 2008.

"Recent news reports suggest that at Verizon’s behest, Google has disabled Verizon customers’ access to third-party tethering applications in Google’s Android Market application store," the complaint reads. "Plainly, Verizon’s actions in disabling access to the tethering applications limit and restrict the ability of users to access those applications. Because users download tethering applications for the express purpose of connecting additional devices to their data connections, Verizon’s actions also limit and restrict the ability of users to connect the devices of their choice to the LTE network. The Commission should immediately investigate this apparent violation of its rules and assess all appropriate penalties."

"Free Press argues that by preventing customers from downloading tethering applications from the Android Market, Verizon is restricting not only the applications available to them, but also limits use of tethered devices such as laptop or tablet computers," the group said in a statement.

Obviously the complaint is addressing restrictions imposed on the LTE network – specifically the C Block of the upper 700 MHz block where Verizon's LTE network resides – saying that Verizon is not allowed to "deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the applications or devices of the customers’ choosing." Could this lead to 3G tethering apps returning to the Android Market? Probably not, but third-party developers are already offering solutions around the Google-Verizon loophole.

GigaOM points out that the open access rules Verizon is reportedly violating were put into place after Google threatened to purchase the spectrum in order to force carriers into opening up their networks. Since then, Google has seemingly backed down from its open access stance by disabling native tethering in Android 2.2 for Verizon.

Still, is Verizon really pushing Google to remove tethering apps from the Android Market? PdaNet developer June Fabrics reveals the truth behind the claims. "Beginning April 2011 PdaNet has been delisted from the Android Market by some carriers since this very popular app - with over 3 million installs and 4.5+ ratings - shares your phone's Internet connection with your computer and does not require a tether fee or rooting your phone," the company says here. "This leaves a lot of our users stuck with an outdated version and no longer receive update notifications from Android Market."

The Free Press complaint is asking the FCC to investigate Verizon's "flagrant disregard" for the conditions of its C-Block licenses.