Sunday, March 27, 2011

Tethering: The Carriers' New Double Dipping

I have a very hard time feeling any sympathy for corporations. They take in billions of dollars a year from their consumers, they're allowed to break anti-trust laws (see Microsoft), mergers that are anti-competitive (NBC/Comcast, AT&T/T-Mobile, etc), and gain major tax breaks from the government. So I don't shed a tear when corporations are taking it up the ass from the consumers (file sharing). The newest thing in the last coupld of years in the cellular industry is tethering.

Tethering, in relevance to cell phones, is just using the data connection on the phone to connect to a computer like a portable modem of sorts. There's also WiFi Hotspot which allows you to use the WiFi chip in your smartphone to allow multiple people to connect to your data connection. Before the 3G movement hit, tethering was really not anything to be paid attention to. Carriers didn't care if you did because their networks weren't even close to being bogged down. Plus, the barely 56 Kbps modem speed you could get hardly made it worth it.

This was what I would call the golden age of data. Unlimited plans were the norm because the consumers rarely used their internet connections. The connections were slow, had horrible lag, and the phones had terrible browsers to work with. All in all, the carriers were making out like bandits on data plans. They were virtually worthless to the consumer at the time, more of gimmick really, but the carriers could make huge bank on it.

As the golden age of data is now fading, the end of 3G movement and into the newly christened 4G movement have brought us a much greater use for our smartphones now. Android and the iPhone are the biggest contributors of this. With full-fledged browsers, Flash on Android, and higher speed connections, consumers are now getting greater use out of the data plans.

Carriers are now charging varying rates for their tethering plans, but the fact of the matter is that they are bullshit. Tethering, specifically in Android 2.2 and greater, is native to the operating system. It's built-in for free along with WiFi Hotspot. So let's just get the whole costing the carriers' anything argument out of the way.

Secondly, and most importantly, data connections are mostly limited. Carriers are moving away from unlimited data because they can no longer handle the network load. This is largely their fault. They had years of government tax breaks to improve their infrastructure, but chose to take the low road with purchasing other companies to obtain spectrum and towers. So in response, we now have limited plans (AT&T being the worst with a paltry 2 GB).

What this amounts to is the carriers double dipping. They are charging consumers for the same data twice. Only in the case of AT&T are consumers being allotted more data for taking on the plan. Never mind the fact that a user could run out their data streaming HD video on YouTube or instead WiFi Hotspot some friends. Either way, the user only has a limited amount of data to work with. This is the crux of the case. If users still had unlimited data, I could understand such a charge (partially), but since the data is capped, why should the carriers charge twice for it?

This is why the recent declarations by the FCC on net neutrality are complete shit. They provided an outline for what the land line companies could and could not do in order to preserve neutrality, but wireless carriers were exempt. Their reasoning even included the fact that Android was open which has absolutely nothing to do with the argument. By allowing the wireless carriers to define whatever terms they want, they effectively screwed the customers. Just look at recent events such as AT&T promising fines and fees to iPhone users that were tethering, a kernel in the Samsung Fascinate that was coded to report tethering, or a recent text message my girlfriend received about how tethering would be blocked.

Carriers are trying to police their consumers' data use with bullying tactics that are outright deceitful. Why should it matter how I use my allotted data? Would you really buy a DSL or Cable internet plan if they said you couldn't use a router to provide internet for the entire household? Why are we holding wireless carriers to different standards that land line providers? What is the point of net neutrality when we arbitrarily make the rules up as we go?

The charging for tethering has to stop. Carriers and service providers are supposed to be a dumb pipe. They are simply there to open the pipes for use. Allowing them to dictate how we use our data is the beginning of the end of net neutrality. It can only get worse from here folks.

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