Sunday, June 17, 2007

How to Make the Mobile Web Not Suck

Back when the Internet was primarily controlled by AOL, it sucked. (Yes, I know AOL didn't "own" the Internet, they were simply the biggest ISP). There was limited consumer choice and the playing field was tilted towards AOL's services.

Nowadays, AOL is barely still in business and the Internet is much more powerful than it used to be. It is an open playing field, which is why Net Neutrality is so important to keep that level playing field open.

The exact same thing is happening with the Internet on mobile devices (mainly cell phones), with the mobile carriers becoming the new AOL. An article over at Read/Write Web takes a look at the current situation.

The mobile carriers claim that they have invested billions in their networks and shouldn't be forced to "open them up", but their assertions entirely miss the mark.

They conveniently ignore the fact that both consumers and Internet companies are paying for bandwidth, which makes Ed Whitacre's comments about Internet companies using "his pipes for free" downright silly.

The carriers' claims that they need to recoup their investment in their networks is simply a diversion from the fact that they want to exert their dominance over the mobile web to extract extortion payments for Internet companies that wish to provide service to their customers on-the-go. They want to "double-dip" and charge for the same bandwidth twice, by forcing both the consumer and the Internet company to pay for the same bandwidth whilst the Internet company is already paying for bandwidth on their end.

The prices for mobile bandwidth are already so absurd that claiming they need more money to recoup their investments is downright silly. Perhaps if they can't make back their money by charging $30 for a measly 4MB of bandwidth per month (some of my emails are bigger than that!) they shouldn't be in the mobile Internet business?

Skype has filed a complaint with the FCC. Some excerpts from the linked article:

"Carriers are using their considerable influence over handset design and usage to maintain control over and limit subscribers' right to run software communications applications of their choosing," Skype told the FCC.

In its filing, Skype said carriers go to great lengths to keep cellphone users boxed in. "In an effort to prefer their own affiliated services and exclude rivals, carriers have disabled or crippled consumer-friendly features of mobile devices." Carriers deny Skype's charges.

Skype says these practices violate longstanding FCC rules that allow consumers to use any device to connect to the U.S. phone network. The only caveat: The device can't cause damage to the phone system.


"As soon as you launch [Skype], you immediately violate the terms of your (cellphone) service contract," says Chris Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs.
Verizon responded with a straw-man argument about the conflicting wireless standards (CDMA and GSM) that prevent the implementation of Skype's proposal. While that may prevent providing unlocked cell phones for multiple carriers, Verizon doesn't explain how these conflicting standards (which are also a pain for customers) prevent the implementation of fair consumer access to the mobile web. Working for a telecom myself, I know of absolutely no way the wireless standard a cellular network uses affects wireless network neutrality.

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