[LINK] Wireless Oligopoly Is Smother of Invention
kim at holburn.net
Wed Jun 16 10:54:05 EST 2010
American but still somewhat relevant to Australia.
> Wireless Oligopoly Is Smother of Invention
> By Ryan Singel
> June 15, 2010
> If the people who brought us television had played by the same rules
> that today’s wireless carriers impose — we’d probably all be
> listening to the radio.
> Which is a nice way of saying the wireless industry — AT&T, Sprint,
> Verizon and T-Mobile — needs some ground rules that make clear they
> are common carriers that get the right to rent the airwaves by
> abiding by fair rules.
> Right now, they play by their own rules.
> Imagine if the wireless carriers controlled your wired broadband
> connection or your television set. You’d have to buy your television
> from your cable company, with a two-year contract, and when that
> ended, you’d have to ask them to unlock it so you could take it to
> another provider.
> If the wireless company ran your ISP, you’d have to use a computer
> they approved, and if you wanted to use a different one, you’d pay
> more. Want Wi-Fi in your house? That’ll be an extra $30 a month and
> $150 to buy an approved but functionally limited Wi-Fi device.
> Luckily, that’s not the case.
> Let’s recap the freedoms you have with your television: The specs
> are standard and public. Any company that wants to make a television
> — whether it be an HD, 3-D, internet-connected plasma 6-footer or a
> handheld TV Walkman — just makes a television, according to
> transparent (FCC) spectrum rules.
> Then you get to buy it. It just works. You watch the stations you
> want. You can hook it up to cable or satellite or DVR or plug a DVD
> player into it.
> With your home broadband connection, you can buy the router of your
> choice, hook up as many computers as you like, and use whatever
> programs you like on your computers. You can even use your
> connection as a base station for your cellular phone, or have your
> bathroom scale automatically report your weight to Twitter.
> You can even share that internet connection with whomever you like,
> including strangers who might otherwise be customers of that same ISP.
> When you upgrade your computer or router (or even the smartphone
> that uses your home Wi-Fi), your ISP doesn’t even know and doesn’t
> The world of mobile in the U.S. is different. Much different.
> You only get a single device, one that has to be preapproved by the
> The device is almost always locked down. If you manage to pry its OS
> open enough to install software, you void your warranty.
> If you care to use your 3G connection occasionally as a modem for
> your laptop, be prepared to pay $30 extra a month — or hack the
> device and (see above) void your warranty.
> If you want to switch devices, you’ll often be forced to ‘upgrade’
> to a more expensive plan, even if your current plan offers unlimited
> data. For instance, Sprint has tens of thousands of users using its
> old friends-of-a- employee plan, known as SERO, which offered
> unlimited data on its best smartphones. Unhappy with the bargain it
> struck, the company refuses to let those customers upgrade to new
> devices — even if they buy the devices for full price.
> Any device that runs on these carrier’s networks must be approved by
> the carriers.
> The wireless industry defends itself, saying that it’s changed its
> ways. Long notorious for crippling their phones and strangling app
> developers who wanted access to their devices, the carriers have
> loosened their policies, since AT&T made its fateful deal with
> Apple, which ripped control of the device out of AT&T’s hands.
> The result showed to the world how the wireless industry had
> purposely crippled cell phones to boost their bottom lines,
> customers be damned.
> Now, the FCC, which is mulling more official net-neutrality rules,
> has the chance to finish the job Apple started, but couldn’t bring
> itself to finish — removing the carriers stranglehold over mobile
> Unfortunately, the idea of setting basic, common carrier ground
> rules — rules that simply lay out what freedoms we all expect — are
> somehow being twisted into the government taking control of the
> internet. (In which case, we must be living in a Communist country
> because the proposal is simple.)
> Require the nation’s wireless carriers to publish the specs they use
> on their networks, so that any device maker can make a device that
> works on any network or all the networks. Then require the carriers
> to offer service, with published limits, to any customer, using any
> compliant device, at a fair price. Subscribers would have the right
> to use more than one device, or at the very least, switch them with
> minimal effort. Those devices could run whatever software they like,
> so long as they don’t harm the network.
> That should be the requirement for the carriers who are using the
> public’s spectrum.
> AT&T and Sprint and Verizon and T-Mobile may have paid hefty sums to
> rent the airwaves, but they do not own them.
> The carriers will doubtlessly whine to Congress that their networks
> are too special and too fragile. Meanwhile, they will brag to
> customers about how strong and robust their cell networks are —
> touting services like streaming video for the iPhone, Skype on
> Verizon, and SprintTV on Sprint smartphones.
> They can’t have it both ways.
> If their networks are fragile, then they should lose their licenses,
> and the country should redistribute them to tech companies that can
> manage them well.
> If the networks are strong and robust, then like their wire-line
> competitors they should have to open them up to any device that
> comports with published standards.
> There’s a history of this. When AT&T was forced to allow non-AT&T
> approved devices in the Carterfone decision, we soon saw an
> explosion in new devices that found innovative uses for the network.
> We got home answering machines, fax machines and portable phones.
> Even better, we got modems.
> Granted there’s been an explosion of innovation (finally) in mobile
> devices in the past few years. Apple, Palm and HTC are all making
> beautiful devices that feel like magic in your hand. The Kindle and
> iPad are likewise magical, relying on 3G connections.
> But what we really need is to break the carrier’s stranglehold on
> We should free the makers and small companies of the world to make
> devices without having to negotiate with carriers to get their
> Say you wanted to make a phone just for weekend nights, say one that
> included a lighter and a slot for holding whatever kind of cigarette
> you like. What carrier would offer that phone?
> Or how about ones designed for kids, the elderly or the disabled?
> A company could make a phone with guts that mesh with a number of
> networks, making the wireless companies have to compete for your
> Google made a half-hearted effort to break the carrier’s grip with
> its Nexus One, which they wanted to sell directly to individuals who
> could then choose their carrier. Among the problems leading Google
> to close its online store was that the carriers soon decided that
> playing that game wasn’t in their long-term interest. Verizon and
> Sprint backed out of their commitment to support the device —
> leaving U.S. customers with only T-Mobile.
> The carriers’s lobbying association likes to point to all the cool
> new phones and ask “Where’s the harm?” The problem is the harm comes
> from the devices and services that haven’t been invented yet,
> because wireless isn’t an open platform.
> We literally don’t know what we are missing.
> When AT&T was forced to open its network by a federal court, the
> challenge came from a device maker whose product, the Carterfone,
> connected a two-way radio to the phone line. It was a nifty
> invention, though one that few citizens used.
> But it opened the way for devices that we all use daily.
> It’s time to do the same for wireless.
> The airwaves are ours, not the networks’, and it’s past time for
> them to be open.
> Now, we just need an FCC and an administration with the guts to
> stand up to the dissembling and the lobbying of the nation’s
> wireless carriers. They maintain profit margins of 40 percent, in no
> small part because they keep choking innovation.
> If they don’t stop, they ought to lose their licenses.
IT Network & Security Consultant
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