Within the past few days, reports have sprung up confirming that carriers are blocking direct access to tethering apps on Android handsets in the wake of recent audits designed to stamp out tethering without paying additional fees, whether by rooting or non-rooted apps.
Naturally, this has led to many to turn into Chicken Little and claim that Google is being compliant towards carriers without putting up a fight in the name of â€œopen accessâ€. Verizon and T-Mobile are the latest to block access to tethering apps from their handsets, with many going as far as stating that Verizon blocking tethering apps is a violation of their agreement with the FCC after the purchase of the 700MHz C block spectrum used to power the LTE network. This is wrong, on many levels.
Carriers are still free to control certain aspects of Android and the Market as they see fit for their handset lineup. As for Verizonâ€™s agreement, the requirements spell out control at the network level and have nothing to do with application visibility since the apps themselves are not being actively blocked from network access. More to the point, unlike Appleâ€™s app control and distribution limitations with iOS and iTunes, Android apps can be distributed outside of the Android Market, which frees Google from the same accusations of control. Of course, distributing apps outside of the official market means markedly less visibility compared to direct access on a handset (this is changing), but the freedom to distribute trumps visibility, at least in this case.
This also brings up the main issue of paying additional (and most would say arbitrary) fees for tethering on top of the now standard fee for handset data access, as many customers disagree with this practice on principle alone. The practice is morally ambiguous, as carriers feel that the additional fees are necessary to offset the cost of the additional bandwidth, while a compromise was quietly offered last year without much fanfare. Both Palm and Verizon set the high watermark for carrier acceptance of tethering by including 5GB of access into the monthly fee for handset data access when purchasing a first generation webOS smartphone, an offering that is yet to be equaled or surpassed and which only came about through much arm twisting and ultimately broken promises, before being succeeded by a much less appealing tethering plan for the Pre 2.
Customers complaining about the carrier app blockade should be up in arms about tethering rates and putting carriers to task, demanding better offerings than the current crop. Would it be nice if every carrier adopted the Verizon/Palm model? Yes, since it gives people a viable backup when on the road and it would also send a message that tethering isnâ€™t about abuse or excessive use as carriers see it now, but the ability to use data access already paid for as one sees fit for the situation at hand.