FCC pressed on iPhone Skype, tethering apps

Advocacy group Free Press calls on agency to require wireless carriers to allow users to access any online content and services from a device of their choosing.

Correction 5:15 p.m. PDT: This story initially misstated the author of the letter where quoted. It is the Free Press.

An advocacy group on Friday called on the Federal Communications Commission to require wireless carriers to allow consumers access to Skype via smartphones, as well as the ability to connect their devices to the Internet through tethering applications on their cell phones.

Apple

The Free Press, in a letter to acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps, expressed concern that wireless carriers were not abiding by the FCC's Internet Policy Statement.

Earlier this week, eBay's Skype made a VoIP application available for download from Apple's App Store .

But AT&T, Apple's exclusive iPhone dealer in the U.S., apparently wants to block the use of Skype on its 3G network, according to a report in USA Today.

In the USA Today report, Jim Cicconi, an AT&T public policy executive, said the telecommunications carrier had the right to forgo the facilitation of its competitors' services. He added Skype is considered a competitor.

The report further notes an Apple spokeswoman, Jennifer Bowcock, indicated the device maker limits third-party Internet phone applications for the iPhone and iPod to Wi-Fi.

In its letter to the FCC, Free Press says:

For two years, we have followed your leadership in raising concerns that wireless service providers appear to be engaging in activities that go against the Commission's Internet Policy Statement by violating consumers' right to run applications, use services, or attach devices of their choice over their broadband connections.

Recent reports about application blocking again raise these questions. Regardless of whether any particular incident would be found in violation of the law, the lingering uncertainty surrounding consumer rights on the Internet indicates the need for the Commission to clarify its rules. To resolve any alleged ambiguity raised by parties in earlier proceedings, the Commission should confirm that the Internet Policy Statement applies to wireless service providers that offer broadband Internet access service, as has been acknowledged in prior proceedings and statements of sitting Commissioners. Furthermore, the Commission should request more information on the extent of the wireless providers' role in and their justifications for these widely-reported behaviors.

Free Press further notes the FCC should investigate the practices of wireless carriers for possible violations of the Internet Policy Statement, as it particularly relates to possible direct or indirect limits on consumers' ability to run applications and services of their choosing on their devices.

 

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