July 22, 2007

Yes! About time!

There may come a day when you, like Europeans and Asians can do now, will be able to take your cell phone to a new carrier. (NYT)

In most European and Asian countries, a customer can switch carriers in a few seconds by removing a smart card from a cellphone and inserting a different one from a new provider. In the United States, wireless carriers have deliberately hobbled their phones to make flight to a competitor difficult, if not impossible.

. . .

Then, in February, Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia University, published an influential paper, “Wireless Net Neutrality,” which made a well-supported case that the government should compel wireless carriers to open their networks to equipment and software applications that the carriers did not control. Mr. Wu called his proposition a call for “Cellular Carterfone,” referring to the 1968 Carterfone ruling by the F.C.C. The Carterfone was a speakerphone-like gadget that permitted a phone sitting in a cradle to be connected with a two-way radio. Over the objections of AT&T, the F.C.C. ruled that consumers could plug it or any phone or accessory into the network so long as doing so did no harm to the network. The ruling set in motion the changes that provided consumers with a cornucopia of equipment choices like answering machines, fax machines, modems and cordless phones. Among Mr. Wu’s readers was Mr. Martin of the F.C.C.

The wireless carriers are fighting a cellular version of the Carterfone decision. They contend that they must exert control over all equipment used on their networks in order to protect the networks’ operations. AT&T says in an F.C.C. filing that only the carrier has the incentive to oversee “the integrity, security and efficient and economical use” of the network.

MR. WU’S paper, however, shows that the landline telephone industry used identical arguments, predicting dire consequences were its customers permitted to use equipment from unknown sources. In 1955, when AT&T was fighting to exclude a gadget called the Hush-A-Phone, the company solemnly argued, “It would be extremely difficult to furnish ‘good’ telephone service if telephone users were free to attach to the equipment, or use with it, all of the numerous kinds of foreign attachments, which are marketed by persons who have no responsibility for the quality of telephone service.”

As a postscript to the landline industry’s resistance to opening its networks, Mr. Wu said in an interview last week, “Things turned out not just O.K., but great.”
I love THIS plaintive wail:
Verizon Wireless, however, contended that Google’s proposals would open its network to phones that Verizon had not approved and “that cannot reliably communicate with law enforcement,” a grave problem “in an era of heightened national security concerns.”

In other words, stick with Verizon-certified phones, or the terrorists win.
We gave up Verizon several months back. After reading this, I'm happier than ever.

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