Up Front: Congress asks about AT&T iPhone exclusivity

What's Now | What's Next main bannerIt sounds reasonable enough on the surface to say that a cellular carrier should be able to make a deal with a phone manufacturer for exclusive distribution rights. AT&T used to have one of those for several decades with a company called Western Electric. And while folks complained about the service from time to time, they didn't complain much about the phone...back before they had touchscreens. But what if you're a rural communications company, and you can't exactly make such exclusive deals. Is it unfair that you're not entitled to make a deal for something as hot as the iPhone? Think it doesn't matter much? Ask the state of Vermont, where you can't buy an iPhone...because AT&T doesn't cover Vermont except for roaming. Imagine, the nation's second largest carrier doesn't sign up customers in an entire state represented by Patrick Leahy. That might not be a good thing.

Congress asks about AT&T/iPhone deal, text charges

Afternoon of June 15, 2009 • Our representatives in Washington have taken an interest in what's up with our mobile phones, with two investigations currently announced or underway. In the first one, four senators -- Byron Dorgan (D - N.D.), John Kerry (D - Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D - Minn.) and Roger Wicker (R - Miss.) -- have formally asked the FCC to look into whether handset exclusivity deals such as AT&T's for the iPhone or Sprint's for the Pre are limiting consumers' ability to use their phones fully.

The senators' action is in response to a letter filed with the FCC by the Rural Cellular Association last month (PDF available here), petitioning for a review of the concept of exclusivity arrangements, arguing that they may be against the public interest.

"For many consumers, the end result of these exclusive arrangements is being channeled to purchase wireless service from a carrier that has monopolistic control over the desired handset and having to pay a premium price for the handset because the market is void of any competition for the particular handset," the RCA wrote. "For other consumers ??"- particularly rural ones ??"- these exclusivity arrangements prevent them from purchasing many of today's most popular handsets because they reside in areas not served by the one carrier
offering the desired handset. For example, almost one year after launch, residents of Vermont still cannot use an iPhone without violating the terms of AT&T's standard service contract. Why? AT&T provides only roaming service in Vermont and does not allow its subscribers to spend more than 40% of their airtime roaming. The iPhone is also unavailable to most rural residents of Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming."

Tomorrow at 2:30 pm EDT, Sen. Kerry, who chairs the Communications Subcommittee, will convene a hearing on the topic of whether private carriers' right to make exclusivity deals truly trumps the public's right to choose the phone they want to use. The senators' letter yesterday advised FCC Acting Chairman Copps of that hearing, and indicated they would look into, among other issues, "whether exclusivity agreements are restricting consumer choice with respect to which handsets are available depending on a consumer's geographic region, particularly for consumers living in rural America," and, "whether exclusivity agreements place limitations on a consumer's ability to take full advantage of handset technologies, such as the ability to send multimedia messages or the ability to 'tether' a device to a computer for Internet use."

In other words, why are exclusivity arrangements making it more difficult, if not impossible, for folks to make use of certain features of their phones for what they're actually designed to do?

BlackBerry goes on "Tour"

Morning of June 16, 2009 • As expected, Research In Motion now has a dog in the Big Summer O' Smartphones hunt: The RIM BlackBerry Tour 9630 will be made available this summer via Sprint and Verizon in the US. It looks a bit like the Bold and is expected to retail (after rebates) for $200. Reuters describes the phone as targeting the consumer space between the Curve and the Bold, and includes plenty of Pearl-style multimedia options. And this morning our Tim Conneally breaks down the specs.

Waz the D'l w/ txt $$$?

2:30 pm EDT, June 16, 2009 > A Senate Judiciary subcommittee meeting set for today will ask why text messaging prices have gone up (and up and up) in recent years. Executive vice presidents of Verizon and AT&T will be on hand, along with policy analyst Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union. The best preview of the expected course of events, which should include testimony from AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, is from Dolores Bernal on MyNewsJunkie.

iPhone 3G S shortages ahead, or not

June 19, 2009 > As the sell date for Apple's new iPhone draws near, there's plenty of hand-wringing over whether there will be enough phones for the faithful. InformationWeek comes down on the yes-shortages side, with Boy Genius Report claiming there's a two-week wait.

On the no-shortages side, CNBC's Jim Goldman says the rumors are bunk. Computerworld's Gregg Keizer did the legwork and reports that Apple's being shifty about when pre-orders from the online store might actually be available, while Best Buy's on record saying they're out of the pre-sold units already. Our question; Between iPhone shortages and palm Pre shortages, how are we supposed to have the Big Summer O' Smartphones if there aren't any smartphones to be had?

As Iran turmoil rages, Twitter stays at the news desk

No end in sight > A planned maintenance outage slated for Twitter Monday night was postponed because, as CEO Biz Stone said on the company blog, "Our network partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran. [Therefore] tonight's planned maintenance has been rescheduled to tomorrow between 2-3p PST (1:30a in Iran)."

The revolution will be tweeted, the commentators proclaimed, and no one's disputing the microblogging service's strong showing in recent days. Prominent political blogger Andrew Sullivan, who has been watching Twitter build out this story since Saturday, suggested that grateful readers "send them your thanks." ReadWriteWeb reports on a few developments that may or may not be designed to help Twitter users evade detection by Iranian authorities, including changes to preferred hashtags. And blogger Christopher Philip Long articulated the slogan gaining popularity to describe Twitter's central role in documenting current events: "One Person = One Broadcaster."

Festival of Twitter Bugs on tap

July 2009 > Who doesn't love a summer festival? Possibly Biz Stone, as security researcher Aviv Raff put out the call Monday for a a month-long project to disclose some of the vulnerabilities afflicting Twitter.

Raff states in his blog that "Each day I will publish a new vulnerability in a 3rd party Twitter service on the twitpwn.com web site. As those vulnerabilities can be exploited to create a Twitter worm, I'm going to give the 3rd party service provider and Twitter at-least 24 hours heads-up before I publish the vulnerability." He says he's got enough bugs captured to fill out the entire 31-day month, but if you've got a contribution to make, get in touch.

At PC Mag, Larry Seltzer -- who remembers the "cheesy but fun" x-span-of-time bug festivals of a few years back, is cautiously supportive, saying that "Perhaps it takes something like this to raise awareness of a problem." Sean Michael Kerner at InternetNews.com is a bit more breathless, asking if the event could be "the real Twitpocalypse." (There are no genuine similarities between a known indexing issue and a collection of zero-day vulns, but this reporter respects Mr. Kerner's play for a little Google News algorithm love.)

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