Now this is an interesting development in the mobile VoIP, commonly known as mobile voice over Internet, community. The iPhone just recently welcomed the popular VoIP service Skype into the App Stpre to amazing success. Skype on iPhone endows the iPhone with the ability to make completely free Skyle-to-Skype calls and cheap Skype-to-number calls without chewing up valuable wireless minutes. By using a carrier’s wireless data network, Skype essentially allows mobile customers to bypass the carrier. But, that’s bad news to wireless carriers looking to turn a buck whenever possible. So, is it any surprise that wireless network operators around the world are clamping down and restricting the use of Skype?
In the US, AT&T has reportedly restricted the use of the Skype iPhone application from being used on the carrier’s 3G network. The move would keep Skype for iPhone relegated to WiFi hotspots. The UK’s O2 has likewise restricted the use of Skype’s mobile application to WiFi hotspots. T-Mobile Germany, on the other hand has taken things a bit further and banned Skype from their network altogether.
In response to the ban, The Free Press, a Net Neutrality group in the US, has filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking the regulatory body to investigate whether AT&T is violating the Internet Policy Statement. European Net Neutrality advocate group Voice On the Net (VON) has asked that European lawmakers enact policies that ensure wireless customers can access whatever services they choose. They argue that consumers’ choice is being limited by carriers.
Defending AT&T’s position, AT&T public policy representative Jim Cicconi stated that AT&T feels it is not required to facilitate access to competing wireless services. AT&T sees Skype as a wireless competitor, and so has no obligation to offer access to Skype’s mobile application. The argument falls flat, however, when viewing carriers as nothing more than wireless data-providers.
The issue at hand is the wireless carrier’s resistance to becoming little more than “data pipes.” Like an Internet Service Provider (ISP), wireless carriers are fast becoming nothing more than the wireless conduits used to ferry communications. Rather than trying to push themselves as content providers, through whom customers can access information and services that the provider deems worthy, wireless carriers would do well to realize that consumers want freedom of choice and accept their eventual fate as data-providers.
What say you? Should carriers be forced to open their networks and accept that they are little more than “data pipes?”