FCC Forces Verizon to Allow Android Tethering Apps

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on Tuesday a settlement with Verizon that allows Android owners to use third party tethering apps on their mobile devices. Under the agreement, Verizon will not block tethering apps, will not ask Android app stores to remove those apps, and the company will not charge tiered data subscribers a $20 per month fee to use sanctioned tethering apps.

Android Tethering

The agreement is limited to Verizon because it is based on a 2008 agreement between the FCC and Verizon when Big Red bought 700 MHz spectrum. As part of that agreement, Verizon committed to providing open access to its network, and the FCC said that Verizon’s tether policies and fees violated that agreement. There are no such agreements currently active with AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, or the regional carriers.

It’s also effectively limited to Android because the agreement covers the company’s 4G LTE network that operates on that spectrum. Apple’s iPhone doesn’t yet support 4G networks—the new iPad does, but Verizon wasn’t charging a separate tethering fee for the “Personal Hot Spot” feature for iPad subscribers.

The agreement also includes a “voluntary” payment of $1.25 million to the U.S. Treasury, a fine by any other name. Verizon was not required to admit wrongdoing, however, and in a statement, the company spun the agreement as follows:

This consent decree puts behind us concerns related to an employee’s communication with an app store operator about tethering applications, and allows us to focus on serving our customers.

Uh huh.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski put it differently, noting that, “Today’s action demonstrates that compliance with FCC obligations is not optional. The open device and application obligations were core conditions when Verizon purchased the C-block spectrum. The massive innovation and investment fueled by the Internet have been driven by consumer choice in both devices and applications. The steps taken today will not only protect consumer choice, but defend certainty for innovators to continue to deliver new services and apps without fear of being blocked.”

So, you know, tomayto, tomahto.

In the meanwhile, Verizon Android owners can look forward to a plethora of tethering apps in the Google Play store.

Image made with help from Shutterstock.