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Skype invokes 60's ruling to open up networksSkype invokes 60's ruling to open up networks

James Middleton

February 23, 2007

3 Min Read
Skype invokes 60's ruling to open up networks

VoIP champ, Skype, has petitioned the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to apply an American legal precedent, known as the Carterfone decision, to wireless networks. It is suggested that if the firm is successful, the networks would be opened up, making it much easier to use Skype-like services over them.

Carterphone dates back to 1968 when federal regulators issued a landmark ruling that allowed Americans to own the telephones in their homes. In effect, it allows customers to attach devices to the phone network, provided it does not damage it. It is Skype’s contention that the law should be extended to allow its application to run on any device capable of accessing the network.

However, Carterphone, to date, has only applied to the wired phone network and cable TV networks. Skype wants regulation that would broaden Carterphone’s reach so that operators would allow any application on any attachable device to be used on their networks.

Christopher Libertelli, Skype’s senior director of government affairs explained: “US wireless carriers are restricting access to certain internet applications such as Skype. Skype is asking the FCC to determine the legality of carriers’ restrictions on access to internet applications and apply the Carterfone ruling, which is designed to remove anti-consumer carrier-imposed barriers and protect a user’s right to run internet applications of their choosing.”

Fortunately for Skype, it is not alone in its beliefe. Leading a separete assault is Columbia University’s Tim Wu, who teaches law and coined the phrase: ‘net neutrality’. In an article for the university, Wu says that operators are “aggressively controlling product design and innovation in the equipment and application markets, to the detriment of consumers. Their policies, in the wired world, would be considered outrageous [and] in some cases illegal.”

Wu believes new regulation is needed to wrench control of the networks from operators in what he sees as the next step in telecommunications. According to a report in the USA Today newspaper last month, Wu has some high placed allies who believe a Carterphone extension could benefit all mobile users. In it, Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC said: “There would be some real consumer savings on the wireless side. on the cable TV side it would allow more innovation.”

Jan Dawson, VP of analyst firm Ovum, told Telecoms.com: “The biggest argument against all this is that the [US] wireless network is very competitive, with three major carriers having roughly equal market share. A fourth has a slightly smaller market share and a handful of others – including MVNOs – providing competition at the edges as well. AT&T was a monopoly when the Carterfone decision was made, which was a very different environment. Having said that, there are moves underfoot to force the carriers to be somewhat more open with their networks, including pressure to unlock phones so that they can be ported to competing networks. I don’t expect all of Wu’s ideas to be adopted but I do expect the general debate around the openness of wireless networks to continue and in time to lead to some changes to benefit consumers. It is still up in the air whether this will affect VoIP over mobile networks or not, though.”

Skype was unable to comment at time of publishing.

Telecoms.com has requested interviews with both the FCC and Professor Wu.

About the Author(s)

James Middleton

James Middleton is managing editor of telecoms.com | Follow him @telecomsjames

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