Monday, February 28, 2011

Did Google Pre-Emptively Block a 4G iPhone on Verizon?

In 2008, after much protest, Verizon accepted openness conditions attached to valuable spectrum being auctioned off by the FCC, and spent $4.7 billion to buy nationwide capacity that would ensure it could build a robust 4G network for the next generation of mobile devices.
But in doing so, Verizon may have screwed itself out of ever being able to offer a 4G-capable iPhone.
The problem is that the “open access” rules attached to the so-called 700 Mhz C block require the carrier to allow the use of any hardware or software that it can’t prove won’t damage the network.
The rules were inserted at the behest of Google, which was bidding for the spectrum but who some cynics contended got involved not to win but to ensure that whoever got the spectrum couldn’t hamper its business, which requires a free and robust internet.
Google’s idea was to create an open space for innovation where a person could buy any device (including one from Google) and run any app that met open standards with no interference by the carrier.
And depending upon how you interpret the rules, which Verizon fought in court before the auction, they also required that the wireless carrier only offer devices that are open and able to run any app. That interpretation would clearly rule out the iPhone, which is locked down by design, and only apps approved by Apple can be loaded onto the device without breaking the device’s warranty.
That’s how Markham Erickson, a technology lawyer and the executive director of the Open Internet Coalition, sees it.
“The interpretation that the rules would ensure all handsets sold by the licensee would be unlocked was the clear intent from Chairman Martin at the time,” Markham said, referring to Kevin Martin, the Republican who headed the FCC at the time the auction rules were set.
When Martin testified to Congress about the provision, Martin made it clear that that “this condition means all handsets will be unlocked and open to all apps,” according to Markham.
Penn State University professor of law and technology Robert Frieden also thinks Verizon might find itself in a pickle.
“I would think the requirement would apply to any device Verizon marketed using that spectrum,” Frieden told
Verizon told the FCC it thinks the rules mean that it has to allow any third-party app or device that doesn’t harm the network, but that it can sell restricted devices and restrict apps on those devices.
As the company said in a September 2007 letter to the FCC: “Verizon Wireless’s position [is] that the Commission should not force C-block licensees to allow any and all lawful applications to be downloaded to any devices that licensees provide, including devices that are not configured to accommodate any and all applications.”
That’s not how Google interprets the rule, according to a 2008 filing calling on the FCC to make sure Verizon follows the rules.
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