Why wireless carriers should be forced into neutrality

Tim Wu, a copyfightin' net-neutrality-advocatin' law prof at Columbia, has posted a draft of a new, stunning paper on net neutrality as it might apply to mobile carriers. In "Wireless Network Neutrality," Wu demonstrates the way that the wireless carriers have adopted the same bad practices that led to landmark action against the wire-line phone companies in the middle of the 20th Century. Wu makes a compelling case for changing wireless regulation to require the same minimal neutrality from wireless carriers that wired carriers are currently bound to — after all, those neutrality rules were responsible for an incredible leap in innovation and telecoms profits. With walled gardens, limits on handsets and handset features, deceptive billing and crummy, fake-ass Internet services, the carriers are slitting their own throats.

Wu's paper contains solid, specific proposals for new rules that would benefit everyone:

1. Network Attachments. Carriers exercise excessive control over
what devices may be used on the public's wireless spectrum. The carriers
place strong controls over "foreign attachments," like the AT&T of the 1950s.
These controls continue to affect the innovation and development of new
devices for wireless networks.

2. Product Design and Feature Crippling. By controlling entry,
carriers are in a position to exercise strong control over the design of mobile
equipment. They have used that power to force equipment developers to omit
or cripple many consumer-friendly features, and also forced manufacturers to
include technologies, like "walled garden" internet access, that neither
equipment developers nor consumers want. Finally, through under-disclosed

"phone-locking," the U.S. carriers disable the ability of phones to work on
more than one network. A list of features that carriers have blocked, crippled,
modified or made difficult to use, at one time or another include:
* Call timers on telephones
* WiFi technology
* Bluetooth technology
* GPS Services
* Advanced SMS services
* Internet Browsers
* Easy Photo file transfer capabilities
* Easy Sound file transfer capabilities
* Email clients
* SIM Card Mobility

3. Discriminatory Broadband Services – In recent years, under the
banner of "3G," carriers have begun to offer wireless broadband services that
compete with WiFi services and may competee with cable and DSL
broadband services. However, the services are offered pursuant to usage
restrictions that violate basic network neutrality rules, and pursuant to
undisclosed bandwidth limits…

4. Application Stall – Mobile application development is by nature
technically challenging. However, the carriers have not helped. They have
imposed excessive burdens and conditions on application entry in the
wireless application market, stalling what might otherwise be a powerful
input into the U.S. economy. In the words of one developer, "there is really
no way to write applications for these things." The mobile application
environment is today, in the words of one developer, "a tarpit of misery, pain
and destruction."


(Thanks, Tim!)

See also:
Understanding broadband regulation
Searchable index of Judge Posner's decisions – law for the people
Network neutrality – why it matters, and how do we fix it
Why the Supreme Court will hear Grokster
Jack Valenti says stupid things — really, really stupid things
Killer audio file of killer lawyers talking Grokster
A simple prescription for keeping Google's records out of government hands