On March 1, 2007, the FCC ruled in favor of a petition filed by Time Warner Communications, indicating that local exchanges cannot deny access to wholesale telecommunications operators (TWC) to provide services and exchange traffic, including Voice over Internet Protocol (Voip).
The decision overturned rulings in South Carolina and Nebraska that allowed local rural exchanges to deny access to wholesale operators, arguing that the wholesale providers were not true telecommunications providers, as they did not offer services directly to the public. interconnecting with the established LECs … are incompatible with the precedent of the Law and the Commission and would frustrate the development of competition and the deployment of broadband “.
In another somewhat related request, VoIP provider Skype has asked the FCC to apply the Carterphone decision of 1968 to the cell phone industry, effectively forcing cell phones to allow external devices and applications to connect to their network.
Tea Carterphone judgment determined at the time that AT & T’s phone network stopped at the phone jack, ending the user’s hardware monopoly and causing a massive influx of new devices and technological innovations to market.
Skype’s petition opens a new can of worms for the US cell phone industry, bringing them to the forefront of the grassroots debate on Net Neutrality. In his article, Dr. Tim Wu details the techniques used by Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile cell phones to limit consumer access to devices and applications such as WiFi, VoIP, Internet browsing and more.
Cell phone companies in the US not only control the public radio waves entrusted to them, but they also sell the equipment used to connect to their networks, much like AT&T before the Carterphone crash. They control access to their networks by disabling the SIM chip in the phones they sell, effectively blocking it to the network, or requiring cell phones to be registered on the operator’s network through their electronic Serial Number (ESN).
Tight control of the services allowed on US cellular networks has stifled developers and impeded the development of useful applications, severely limiting competition and consumer choice. VoIP over WiFi connections, advanced GPS features, Bluetooth wireless capabilities and the development of advanced SMS Applications are just a few of the technologies that at one point or another have been hampered by the US cellular industry.
By ruling in favor of Time Warner, the FCC sided with the big boys, and rightly so. Consumers should be able to choose from a wide variety of applications, including VoIP, if it is technologically feasible. Being denied that by a service provider, simply because it does not benefit the operator, not only is it not competitive, but in some ways it is simply not American.
Skype has also asked the FCC in its petition to consider a method for creating transparent and neutral standards in the cellular industry, perhaps something like the IEEE standards committee that has worked so well for wireless networks. Sounds great! Device developers and manufacturers could work together to foster competition and technological innovation, ultimately with enormous benefit to the consumer.
Obviously, this is not something that the US cellular industry would want, and it would undoubtedly rally all of its considerable resources in opposition. A project of this magnitude would also be a huge undertaking for the FCC, and could possibly lead to another level of bureaucracy.
If it is really the FCC’s mission to foster competition, new technologies, and protect consumer rights, as TWC’s decision implies, then there is a golden opportunity for them to do just that in the petite Skype petition. As guardian of people’s communication systems and On the public airwaves, applying the Carterphone principles equally to all players in the telecommunications industry would at least seem like a no-brainer to me.