Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin was "pleased" and fair-use activists at Public Knowledge were "cautiously optimistic" at the news that Verizon Wireless will give customers the option of using any device or application on its wireless network.
Cellular-phone companies have traditionally bundled devices with service -- think AT&T and Apple’s iPhone -- but Martin supported an FCC decision recently to put open-access conditions on a valuable swath of former digital-TV spectrum being auctioned for wireless applications next January.
"I was pleased to hear the announcement by Verizon Wireless of its plans to introduce a new option for customers throughout the country -- an option that will allow customers to use any device and to use any applications that they choose on the Verizon Wireless network,” Martin said. “As I noted when we adopted open-network rules for our upcoming spectrum auction, wireless customers should be able to use the wireless device of their choice and download whatever software they want onto it."
Marktin encouraged others to follow Verizon's lead. "I continue to believe that more openness -- at the network, device and application level -- helps to foster innovation and enhances consumers’ freedom and choice in purchasing wireless service," he said.
That was seconded by House Energy & Commerce Chairman John Dingell (
D-Mich.): " I’d like to see additional carriers listen to their customers and offer a more open platform,” he said, while also praising the move.
Adding his high-five to the announcement was House Telecommunications & Internet Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.). "Although important details about Verizon’s proposed policy change remain to be seen," he said. "today’s announcement is welcome news for wireless consumers and device and application developers as it indicates that a major wireless provider is moving in the direction of greater network openness and consumer choice.”
Public Knowledge, which has been pushing for mandatory open access and network neutrality, said it welcomed the announcement but called the move "very limited," adding that if others don't follow its lead, "consumers will still find their phones tied to a specific technology or wireless company."
Public Knowledge added that the proof of Verizon's commitment would come in the pricing of its phones. One complaint has been that even though wireless companies allow the use of other devices, they bundle in the price of their own into the cost of service, which means that anyone who wants to use another device is essentially paying for two.
"Even with the announcement today," Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said, "if Verizon continues to subsidize cell phones, then the adoption of the open model will be minimal absent a rapid decline in cell-phone prices. We need to know whether the rates for Verizon service plans will vary for those with subsidized phones and for those customers with a phone bought elsewhere."
The open Internet Coalition, comprised of media activists like Free Press and computer companies like YouTube and Paypal, used the announcement to put in a plug for network neutrality. “Now that Verizon Wireless has begun to embrace change on its wireless network, " said coalition executive Director Markham Erickson in a statement. "we hope the company will do the same for wireline broadband Internet and drop its opposition to network neutrality provisions designed to help foster greater consumer choice and economic innovation.”