FCC Fines Verizon; Consumers Rejoice

This week, the Federal Communications Commission delivered a long-awaited victory in the fight for Internet freedom. It fined Verizon Wireless $1.25 million for illegally limiting customers’ use of competitive applications on the company’s 4G network. The FCC action will save lots of Verizon customers hundreds of dollars a year, giving those folks more affordable and open Internet access.

Here’s the background: Last year Free Press filed a complaint with the FCC after reports surfaced that Verizon had urged Google to remove certain kinds of apps from its Android Market (now called Google Play).

The apps in question let Verizon subscribers connect their laptops to the Internet using their smartphone data plans (a practice known as “tethering”). Before these apps came along, customers had to pay as much as 30 extra bucks per month to tether — and this fee was on top of the baseline charges for data plans. The tethering apps return some control over mobile data to subscribers, who could use such tools to avoid paying twice for the same data.

Verizon wasn’t thrilled about the disruption and told Google to block tethering apps from its store. But — as Free Press pointed out in our complaint — this request violated “no-blocking” rules Verizon agreed to when it acquired a chunk of valuable spectrum for its 4G LTE network. In other words, Verizon is legally obligated to keep its 4G network open, which means it can’t restrict access to tethering apps.

This week the FCC announced that it agreed with Free Press, and said that Verizon’s request of Google indeed violated the terms of the no-blocking rules.

This decision sends a strong signal that companies like Verizon — which spend more time (and money) trying to kill Internet freedom than on supporting their users — can’t get away with such behavior.

So we can cross “illegal app blocking” off of our list of grievances with Verizon. Next up: fighting back against the company’s claims that it has the right to “edit” the Internet.

Original photo by Flickr user Ed Yourdon

If you want to support the fight to keep the Internet open, please consider a donation to the Free Press Action Fund.

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people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good