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Skype: Wireless Networks Are Not Opening Up

Posted by: Olga Kharif on September 16, 2008

In a letter to the Federal Communications Commission dated Sept. 12, Chris Libertelli of Web-calling service Skype reported that he believes that U.S. wireless carriers have had a change of heart about opening up their networks to applications.

Remember, in the past year, several carriers including Verizon Wireless have committed to opening up their networks to all apps and devices. Well, Skype argues that carriers are still exercising too much control over which apps and devices get a green light. “Despite the carriers’ assurances, when lip service to the goals of open networks is translated into their terms of service, they continue to require their subscribers to limit the applications and devices that can be used on their networks,” according to the filing, in which Skype is asking for federal regulation to ensure industry-wide compliance with open policies.

This is not the first time for Skype to bring wireless net neutrality regulation up. Analysts and industry insiders have long predicted that the FCC will eventually need to impose wireless regulation similar to rules it’s already imposed on Internet service providers like Comcast. But the agency has continued to push wireless net neutrality topic off its agenda.

Well, as wireless data usage skyrockets, and people start using a multitude of new devices and mobile applications, the time might be drawing near when the topic may have to be re-examined. It’s not clear-cut by any means. Clearly, U.S. service providers are more open now than they had been even a year ago. AT&T’s iPhone supports Apple iTunes App Store, offering more than 3,000 applications from independent developers. T-Mobile USA is on the cusp of launching a similar store, and so is Google.

Yet, all U.S. carriers today prohibit use of Web-calling applications like Skype if they route voice traffic away from their networks. Their terms of service prohibit continuous video and audio streaming. So I wouldn’t be surprised if, under pressure from the likes of Skype and Google, wireless net neutrality makes it onto the FCC’s agenda in the next year to 18 months — it’s about time we got more clarity on what open networks really mean.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.



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