Verizon's tethering fiasco: A lesson in deception and denial

Verizon Tethering

Consumers got a big win this week when the FCC announced a settlement that prevents Verizon from blocking tethering apps in the Google Play Store. While that's a positive step, however, Verizon's handling of the situation is anything but admirable; in fact, even while agreeing to adjust its policies, the carrier continues to mislead and deceive its customers about what's really going on.

We'll get to the deception in a moment. First, a little perspective on what got us here: Back in 2008, Verizon bought a special kind of wireless spectrum known as "C Block." As part of that deal, the carrier agreed to a series of "open device and application obligations." Specifically, it agreed to "not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of [its] customers to use the devices and applications of their choice" on its new network.

As many Android users know, Big Red didn't exactly live up to that promise: In the spring of 2011, the carrier started making it impossible for users to download popular third-party tethering apps from the Google Play Store, then known as the Android Market. As Big Red made abundantly clear, it wanted people to fork over extra cash if they wanted to tether their phones, and those apps made it far too easy to get around its fees.

Verizon Tethering FCC

At the time, a source with close knowledge of the situation confirmed to me that Verizon had filed a request with Google to have the tethering apps filtered out of the Market on devices connected to its network. Any Android carrier can file such a request, and Google will honor it if the apps in question directly violate the carrier's terms of service (according to Verizon's TOS at the time, those apps did). The FCC's explanation of the situation paints a similar picture.

So that brings us to now: As part of an FCC investigation into Verizon's actions, the carrier agreed to pay a $1.25 million fee and to notify Google that it "no longer objects to the availability of the tethering applications" for customers on usage-based (i.e. non-unlimited) plans.

Simple enough, right? You'd think so. But get this: Amidst all of that, in a statement released this week, Verizon is actively denying that it ever actually blocked tethering applications. Yes, really.

The carrier's statement, as released to Computerworld, The New York Times, and other publications:

Verizon Wireless has always allowed its customers to use the lawful applications of their choice on its networks, and it did not block its customers from using third-party tethering applications. 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.

Seriously, Verizon? The fact that you've been violating your open application commitment and screwing over your customers for 15 months isn't enough? Now you have to play word games with them, too, and pretend that nothing bad ever actually happened?

Verizon Tethering Block

News flash: For all intents and purposes, asking Google to prevent users from downloading certain apps from its app market is the same thing as "blocking" those applications. Sure, people can get creative and find workarounds -- but clearly, you were doing everything you could to make using those applications as difficult as possible.

And as for your line about "concerns related to an employee's communication with an app store operator about tethering applications"? Give me a freakin' break. If an employee with enough power to make requests to Google requested that tethering apps be blocked -- and the resulting blocking went on for well over a year -- that constitutes you as a company blocking those apps. To-MAY-to,

to-MAH-to.

To be clear, Verizon's played these kind of shady games before. Back when word broke that Verizon was blocking Google Wallet from its Galaxy Nexus model, the carrier came out with a statement claiming that it was not, in fact, "blocking" the application; it was merely not enabling its customers to use it. In other words, Verizon "did not have sexual relations with that woman."

Look, we can argue over semantics all day, but in both cases, it's painfully clear that Verizon took deliberate steps to try to prevent its customers from using certain applications. And when it comes to the tethering apps, it's painfully clear that it did so in direct violation of an agreement it made over its network and its customers' rights.

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Continuing to play these silly word games in the face of such facts makes Verizon look petty, manipulative, and disrespectful of the very people who pay for its services. Enough is enough, Verizon. Man up already and stop insulting us all.

UPDATE: Verizon's tethering settlement: What about Google Wallet?

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