Outcry and complaints come after carriers threaten to block Skype on the iPhone
Consumer and technology advocacy groups in both the United States and Europe are asking for governmental intervention to stop wireless carriers from selectively blocking applications from running on phones. The moves came after carriers in the US prevented Skype from running on 3G data networks, and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile unit in Germany said it may even ban Skype usage over Wi-Fi.
T-Mobile claims that allowing consumers to make voice over IP calls would lead to high bandwidth usage and slow down the network, an assertion that many reject.
Skype responded to news that DT would block its application on the iPhone and BlackBerry devices earlier this week by saying there is no technical justification for the move. "They pretend that their action has to do with technical concerns: this is baseless. Skype works perfectly well on iPhone, as hundreds of thousands of people globally can already readily attest. But their announcement also demonstrates that some operators do not fear the customer or regulatory consequences of their bad behaviour," said Skype general counsel Robert Miller.
"It's worth noting that even if German consumers wanted to change mobile providers, they could not: like Deutsche Telekom, every other German mobile operator contractually forbids consumers from using VoIP applications (this is the same in France, actually)," Miller added.
In turn, the Voice on the Net (VON) coalition Europe, which includes eBay's Skype, Google, Microsoft, Intel and others has called on European lawmakers to pass legislation that protects consumers and ensures they can use VoIP applications on smartphones when connected to public networks.
"Blocking of voice applications on mobile devices, such as the announcement of T-Mobile to block Skype on iPhones in Germany, is highly detrimental for consumer welfare in Europe," VON said in a statement.
In the United States, the situation is a bit different. While AT&T isn't preventing its subscribers from downloading Skype for use on Wi-Fi networks, it and other wireless carriers do block VoIP applications from using their 3G data networks. The rationale for this is that customers would simply start making calls using their unlimited data plans, especially International calls that are much cheaper with Skype.
However, consumer advocacy group Free Press says that this violates the principals of net neutrality, in which Internet providers should not prioritize or prohibit certain types of traffic on their networks. Free Press has filed a complaint with the Federal Communication Commission on the matter, asking it to investigate whether AT&T and Apple are violating any rules.
Free Press has had success in the past; the group filed a complaint with the FCC when Comcast began throttling and blocking some BitTorrent users. The FCC ended up sanctioning Comcast, which has appealed the decision in federal court.