Are carriers beginning to limit our favorite operating systems?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from  Arizona
| Published: August 4, 2011

Is anyone surprised anymore when a carrier makes an executive decision that has a direct effect on the subscriber? No? Good. Then today’s news about AT&T crackin’ the old whip shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. And while we can sit here and talk about whether or not it’s the right thing for AT&T to do, that’s not really the point. It’s a pretty cut-and-dry situation. Some subscribers are using tethering applications that circumvent AT&T’s tethering plans. It’s only made worse because these subscribers are also on AT&T’s now extinct unlimited data plan. And that’s just not fair. Okay, they’re right; you shouldn’t be doing things to circumvent the rules. But . . . Well, your phone’s able to do it, and up until everyone and their grandmother started tethering using those free or paid-for apps, the carriers didn’t seem to care much. So, is there a limit to cashing in a buck? Probably not.

And that’s exactly what the major wireless carriers are doing, at least some of them. We know that Verizon cracked down on unauthorized tethering by literally blocking the applications within the Android Market. That was a bold step, but it seemed to work for them. As much as it could, anyway. Coupled with the talk that Big Red was doing sweeps to try and find folks who managed to get around their little detour, and then taking necessary action on them, the majority probably stopped any unauthorized tethering. Sure, it probably still exists out there, but you can’t stop everyone from doing everything.

And AT&T’s three-step plan actually doesn’t seem all that bad. I mean sure, it’s probably not the greatest moment to literally remove people from their plans, but at least Blue is giving them some options. If they decide not to act, then AT&T will do it for them. Pretty cut and dry, if you ask me. And like I said above, I don’t really think the conversation is about AT&T’s actions against unauthorized tethering, but more to the fact that the carrier is trying to significantly shut down one main reason people root their phones. Considering that tethering is one of the main features included in many custom ROMs, it’s obviously a feature that people want. And with Android’s inherent open nature, then people who have an Android phone and take the time to root it, add a custom ROM and whatever else, they should be able to use their phone as they see fit.

It’s not like AT&T has always had tethering plans or Verizon for that matter. The wireless carriers saw that they had an opportunity to make money, so they jumped all over it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. After all, that’s the way business works. But the carriers shouldn’t be going after those who have been using that particular feature, in that particular manner, just because they can. Or more to the point, just because they’ve now initialized plans that counter their current usage.

I’m not going to say that there’s going to be a huge migration from AT&T (or Verizon) over this stuff, because as we are all well aware this only affects a small number of subscribers. But it’s the principle of the thing. The truth is, when other carriers don’t have these restrictions or actions, then that’s one thing. But when the carriers that do have these restrictions actually start going out of their way to punish those who may be going around the fence a little bit, then those other carriers start to look a bit more appealing. After all, those guys aren’t chasing down their subscribers.

AT&T’s actions are sound, from the business side of it. It makes sense for them to do what they’re doing. However, Android’s ability to have open applications, freely available actions that do all sorts of things, or the fact that rooting your device opens that functionality, means that those users who take these steps shouldn’t be sought after. It’s part of the Android experience, and that’s just the truth. If carriers start limiting the ways we use our mobile operating systems, then we’ve got a major problem. Is the next move for the carriers to shut down Apple’s new iMessage, or even Research In Motion’s entrenched BlackBerry Messenger? After all, that’s free international messaging – shenanigans!

Anyway, what do you think of AT&T’s next move with unauthorized tethering? Are they in the wrong even in the slightest here? Or should they have done this long ago? Let me know in the comments below what you think.