Tethering

The FCC has released a statement today concerning its investigation into Verizon Wireless blocking access to applications (specifically tethering apps) for devices using the "C block" spectrum they use for LTE services. Under the terms of the settlement announced today, Verizon will be paying $1.25 million to the U.S. Treasury, and implement a "compliance" plan consisting of more training to ensure that they do not violate the C block rules in the future. 

The issue stems from the rules of the C block auction, which Verizon bid on and won to get the spectrum they use for LTE. I won't bother going into all the numbers here, but the wavelength of the C block makes it a very desirable piece of the airwaves, and the FCC placed a mandate that the auction winner must allow customers to freely use devices and applications of their choosing when accessing the frequencies. Verizon had successfully blocked tethering apps from appearing in Google Play, including their LTE devices. This is against the rules, and the FCC had to take action. 

There also are couple things here we need to keep in mind. Other carriers (hello, AT&T!) can block apps from the Play Store, as they didn't win the C block auction and don't have to follow those rules. The second is that while Verizon has to allow access to the applications, nothing was mentioned that said they had to allow free tethering on its LTE network. It can still block access server-side, or monitor accounts and charge users that download and use applications to tether. We're not sure what, if any, precautions Verizon is going to implement here, but before you celebrate by downloading Easy Tether and burning through a few GBs of data, keep in mind that few things in life are actually free. 

Source: FCC

 

Reader comments

Verizon to pay $1.25 million for blocking tethering apps on C block devices

50 Comments

How is this relevant now that they have introduced shared data plans that include tethering? I know that some people still have the unlimited data forfor now. But still kinda stupid they would block tethering apps when it would still consume data

$1.25 million is a spit. No penalty or deterrent after looking at their earnings. I doubt I will see a dime in reduced fees from Verizon or reduced taxes from the IRS. Won't pay down the national debt, just line the pockets of the already rich and powerful politicians.

This is the problem in a nutshell with our penalty system on the one hand we jail non violent offenders for doing things that are largely merely socially unacceptable.. while we hand out trivial fines to companies earning billions in profits by breaking the rules they agreed to.. that are essentially.. less than pocket change (perspective: verizon spent more advertising the ill-fated blackberry Storm or Kin one and two, or even the Palm Pre and Pixie than this fine)

If we want fines to matter they need to have teeth that bite, and the people imposing them should not be "negotiating" with the violators (FCC/FTC love to negotiate settlements which seems odd given that nearly every incident like this could cause bankruptcy to many of these companies... meanwhile MP3 sharing judges apply fines that are orders of magnitude higher than most peoples lifetime earnings?)

Dont they still want you to pay extra for tethering even though you have a finite data cap?

Good to hear. AFAIK, Verizon isn't allowed to block any apps on devices that use the C block. So does this mean Google Wallet will come to the Verizon GNex soon?

I use gw every day. I downloaded it from the play store and have no issues whatsoever. Found it in the my apps list, installed it and everything is good.

there is a workaround. google it to be sure, but it involves using the browser to get to it through the market. i think you open link in browser until it confirms you cannot download it, then go back, then go forward again but open in market.

I believe that that workaround has been blocked. It's the way that I got Google Wallet on my device a good while ago. However, by the time that my wife wanted it on her GNex, the old method simply didn't work.

so how are they allowed to cap the 4G data plans then seems they shouldn't be able to by capping its limiting use/access right ????

So many analogies...

Access does not equal the amount of data you can pull or push through the pipe, which is what they can cap. They can't tell you that you can't get onto the highway (you are paying for that after all). They can't tell you that you can only drive to Ohio. They can tell you that you can only drive 65, or that you can only drive a total of 2,000 miles this month. But none of that is a limit to getting on the road in the first place.

I can get unlimited access to all of the dvd's in the Netflix library (open 24 hours a day, and to all subjects, genres, etc.), but they set a quantity limit (data) to 5 items at a time, for as long as I want to keep them. If they told me that I could only rent Indie dvd's, I'd search for another service.

Maybe i'm not interpreting the mandate of the auction clearly, but wouldn't they be in violation if they blocked users from using the apps as well?

I agree, and I think Jerry has misread the requirements of C Block.
This is the Camels nose under the tent wall as far as the carriers are concerned.

This is EXACTLY why Google bid on this spectrum, to force the price high enough such that these provisions would kick in, and people can start using the bandwidth they pay for for any legal and non-harmful purpose. The era of carriers as dumb pipes is upon us.

Essentially you can use your data and your apps in any way that is not harmful to the network. This is one of the MAIN reasons the carriers are slipping in Data Caps, because they all know (whether they have C block or not) that they will soon not be allowed to limit what you do with your bandwidth, or charge more for one use as compared to another use.

Tethering charges are dead. And not JUST on LTE. Verizon will waive them (initially perhaps only on LTE phones), and that will cause other carriers to waive them.

Other sites are saying explicitly that VZW can no longer charge for tethering:

QUOTING:-----

In short, “Verizon Wireless offers customers its 4G LTE service on C Block spectrum. Verizon Wireless bid at auction to acquire that spectrum, understanding that it was accompanied by open device and application obligations. Specifically, licensees offering service on C Block spectrum 'shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network, subject to narrow exceptions.'”

In addition, “Under the terms of today’s settlement, Verizon Wireless will make a voluntary payment to the Treasury in the amount of $1.25 million, and has committed to notifying the application store operator that it no longer objects to the availability of the tethering applications to C-Block network customers” and that Verizon “revised its service offerings such that consumers on usage-based
pricing plans may tether, using any application, without paying an additional fee.”

-------

Note I called this months ago when Verizon blocked Google Wallet, as a clear violation of C Block rules. Yall didn't believe me then.

That's it?! $1.25 million is pocket change for Verizon!

How much money did they make off of forcing users to purchase tethering/hotspot plans?!

A its a tad more than pocket change, and its a b1tchslap large enough that Verizon can't ignore it, because the next infraction of this rule will be orders of magnitude larger, from hundreds of millions of dollars up to loss of LTE C band licenses.

According to engadget's article, unlimited plans are not included in this, meaning they can still continue to block tethering on them. So, really does this mean anything changes at all? VZW customers can now just download third-party tethering apps?

and the FCC placed a mandate that the auction winner must allow customers to freely use devices and applications of their choosing when accessing the frequencies.

So how would unlimited plans not be included? unless the unlimited plans dont use lte? which i know for a fact they do since i have unlimited.

If they really wanted to they could still apply it to the 3G phones or when on the 3G network. I doubt it's worth the effort for them to setup a method for differentiating though.

Nothing in the press release I see says anything about still blocking unlimited customers. Just that they recently rolled out plans (Share Everything) where tethering was included at no additional charge.

Yeah, I re-read it and didn't find anything except in the footnote... but that seems contradictory to the entire rest of the original rule and the settlement.....

"In addition, the company recently revised its service offerings such that consumers on usage-based pricing plans may tether, using any application, without paying an additional fee."

And Engadget's report said...

"Though it's not explicitly stated, we assume that means those of you lucky enough to be grandfathered in to the unlimited data plans are left out."

The FCC order does not commit Verizon to providing unlimited bandwidth and tethering.

That would be confiscatory.

That is why the requirement that this is only applicable to usage based plans. And only those served from the C block (700mhz band) LTE phones.

Translation: Capped plans can tether for free on LTE.

Retaining the restrictions on Tethering on Non LTE towers will probably be too much work, and Verizon will just give up and stop charging for tethering on capped plans.

Verizon may use that as one more incentive to drag you kicking and screaming to a capped plan.

I promptly DLed PDANet and Foxfi and I can confirm that I am at this moment tethering my Droid X with a grandfathered Verizon Unlimited plan. On a lark I had tried yesterday and I was unable to, but I was using Elixir 2 - maybe that had something to do with it.

Anyway, as long as I don't get a surprise $20 charge in a couple weeks it looks like it's confirmed.

I've been using FoxFi on my GNex for months, and I never had any issues with it not working, nor has Verizon ever noticed I was tethering and charged me.

Can someone please explain to me how Verizon can block apps in the Google Play Store?
If my phone is on Wi-Fi, how can VZW possibly be allowed to have any control at all?
Unless Google is in bed with VZW and blocking app access based on the phone's ESN?

Apps can be blocked based on the device model which is why you can change your build.prop and get access to other apps.

I'm confused, even when I was stock on my Verizon GN, I was able to see and downloaded FoxFi and use it successfully? Who has actually had these problems?

"...but before you celebrate by downloading Easy Tether and burning through a few GBs of data, keep in mind that few things in life are actually free."

Aren't we already paying for the data?

No! You're paying for data access for the phone itself, NOT other devices you connect to it via tethering. This is clearly stated in your data plan. :)

Similar to Class Action Suits, the parties "hurt" seldom get meaningful reimbursement for any deemed "damage". Since no lawyer or lead plaintiff exists, the FCC gets to "fine" the offending party.

I am really sorry if this was already answered but maybe I am easily confused. Does this just allow Verizon users to download tethering apps now but Verizon can still throttle or even block the LTE use of those apps? That, in essence, would mean this change really means nothing, right? If you have a tethering app on your phone already, you're still subject to Verizon "catching you" and "punishing you" for actually using it?

First, tiered data isn't limiting access, you can continue to use however much data you want. But Verizon will butt rape you without lube on your bill if you do.
What about using whatever device I want? It says that too. Why can't Google sell me a direct nexus for Verizon like the GSM ones?

Hehehe...reading (and commenting on) this post on an Asus Transformer Infinity tethered to a VZW Galaxy Nexus w/unlimited data, using FoxFi. Incidentally, one of the few tethering apps I've seen that Big Red hadn't pulled from the Play Store...also the most reliable I've ever used.

I did want to say, while Verizon may not be able to block apps like these from C-Block phones, they still have the ability to limit their use. Especially given the fact that these phones are designed to switch between 3G and LTE automatically. It wouldn't be hard for them to claim "Your Honor, we were happily allowing Mr. Smith open usage of our LTE network with his EasyTether app but you can see in figure 4 that he was clearly using it on our 3G network several times over the period in question. This violation is what caused us to fine Mr. Smith and block his app from connecting to our network until such time that it is rewritten in such a way that does not allow it to strong-arm its way onto our 3G network.

I am hoping Google will jump through this loophole and pull Google Wallet out of there for those who don't want to trust third-party sources to download an app that has direct access to our money.

1.25 million dollars? thats it? GTFOH with all the scam plans they charge out of people everyday, they’ll make that 1.25 million before the work days over. im glad i have unlimited data and i intentionally run pandora and anything that’ll run my data up. only up to 26gb for last month. looking to get to 100gb of data use so if anyone that lives around me need free data HMU

Slap on the wrist and the onset of shared everything plans makes the whole thing moot. There will be no need for third party apps for this given that most smartphones have tethering apps and the use of these tethering apps is now allowed when you move to the new plans.

And I have google wallet installed on my unrooted galaxy nexus. No hacking required.

This is another example of why the carriers must be regulated. After all the airwaves they use are supposedly owned by the public.

Just called vzw and inquired on the Fcc ruling, talked to a supervisor and no clue.. want to charge $20. for My SIII LTE phone even using the C-block bandwidth with my speeds in the middle 20's mps.