CTIA to FCC: We Allow VoIP, Chill on Net Neutrality

I was captivated by the CTIA’s comment  filed recently in response to the FCC Notice of Inquiry (or NOI) on Wireless Competition. In this factoid filled ex parte presentation, the wireless industry’s leading trade group was crowing about the robust device market, citing the news that Apple now allows VoIP applications—read Skype and iCall— on the iPhone.  It’s practically a case study for Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Not!

In 2007, Skype petitioned the FCC to bear down on wireless carriers that prevented customers from accessing VoIP applications on smartphones. In making its argument, Skype referred to the …  Carterfone decision, the moldy ruling that opened up the legacy corded phone market in the late 60s.

There’s a timeless quality about these FCC filings, as if history never happened.

In any case, the Skype petition was gathering dust until the FCC drafted new rules for net neutrality in October 2009. This very visible hand was enough to prod both AT&T and Verizon to recently open up their 3G networks to Skype.

But the CTIA presentation claims that it was device maker Apple, not the carriers, that had lifted restrictions on VoIP.

While there’s a strong case to be made that Apple was instrumental in getting Google’s VoIP app, Google Voice, off the iPhone, even Apple bashers have to take note about the terms of its agreement with AT&T:

“There is a provision in Apple’s agreement with AT&T that obligates Apple not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T’s cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP session without obtaining AT&T’s permission. ” (From Apple’s news page)

It’s the type of agreement that demolishes the competitive-robust device market claim that is made in the summary of the CTIA filing.

(Editor’s note: Google was able to backdoor Voice onto the iPhone as a Web application.)