iPhone Politics... and Wednesday's iPhone Hearing in Congress [UPDATED]

by: Matt Stoller

Mon Jul 09, 2007 at 21:31

Powerful Democratic Congressman Ed Markey is holding a hearing on Wednesday titled  'Wireless Innovation and Consumer Protection'.  But really, the hearing should be titled 'the iPhone Hearing', because that's what this is about.  The launch of the iPhone is not just a consumer landmark, it's a significant moment in internet politics.  Working Assets has already pointed this out with an action campaign, and their CEO Michael Kieschnick has a thoughtful post on the reactionary nature of the iPhone's locked in contract with AT&T. 

Rather than explaining the situation myself, I'm going to turn to an expert, Ben Scott, the policy director for Free Press.  Ben's a public interest lobbyist, and someone who has taught me a tremendous amount about telecom policy.  Right now, there are a few confluent events that are inspiring a lot of debate around the public airwaves, and it all hinges on the iPhone and its immense significance.

I taped Ben's explanation of the situation in his office earlier today.

If you enjoyed this video, I'll try to tape other lobbyists and organizers in DC representing our interests.  And don't forget to send a message to the FCC

UPDATE: There's a potentially very important story out on the 700 spectrum auction, the massive airwaves being auctioned off this summer.  FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is reportedly circulating rules that would force an open wireless network for the spectrum being sold off.  If this is true, and I'm working to verify the story with some sources, it means a number of things.  Well first and foremost, it means that we took an unexpected big step towards an open internet.  Two, our grassroots pressure, combined with the business pressure, really showed regulators that there was a hunger for a different type of communications structure, and they are responsive.  Three, someone must have convinced Kevin Martin that an open network is a profitable and sustainable model for business operators.  Once again, I'm working to verify this, but it could be a very big deal.

Matt Stoller :: iPhone Politics... and Wednesday's iPhone Hearing in Congress [UPDATED]

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Pretty good (0.00 / 0)
That was pretty good, though in the future it might be better to keep them a bit shorter.  I don't know what your budget is like, or if it goes against your 'open' ethic (I don't know why it would), but have you looked into a semi-professional outfit like Veracifier for video content?  I think Josh Marshall uses them pretty effectively, and your 'video wall' feature is just begging for a regular professional series of interviews.  I guess the first day of your opening probably isn't the time to look into it...

Anyway, I'm loving the site so far, both in layout and content.  Good luck, guys!

I support John McCain because children are too healthy anyway.

ganging up (4.00 / 3)
I have to say that I actually unsubscribed from Working Assets action alerts over this. I just thinking its a lot of nonsense. Yes, it would be great if we had Japan-style open access, where any phone worked with any carrier. But we don't and AT&T and apple aren't the first to keep phones in network. Apple wanted to not only change the way that the dataphone works, but also the way that the consumer buys the dataphone -- what other carrier lets you activate your phone at home. Or buy the phone at another location and activate it at home? Frankly, AT&T was pretty much the only one that would accept the terms of the deal -- the low-cost rate plan. The activation scheme. I think that this will actually force the other players to change their behaviors -- just like Apple change the record companies. But it will take a few years. All this does is highlight how our nation of technological innovation has a telecom system that is getting in the way -- from the networks to the slow roll out of broadband. Perhaps its good that the attention is brought now, but this still seems like silly sour grapes and stupid to blame this on Apple, when this has been the case for years (including with Working Assets own wireless).

FCC (4.00 / 1)
The good thing is that we have the ability to influence the playing field as a whole at the FCC.

[ Parent ]
i appreciate the information (0.00 / 0)
(not all of us are geeks)

[ Parent ]
Did he blame Apple? (0.00 / 0)
I don't know, maybe he did, but I didn't really take it that way.  What I heard was that closed networks limit choice and put us at the mercy of the huge conglomerate communication companies (Whatever happened to the reason for the breakup of AT&T?). Activating a phone at home is no huge step, you usually get it activated conveniently at the store when you buy it.  Now, if I could shop to get the best price on the best phone, maybe even online, then activate it at home regardless of my provider ... then we'd have something.

Freedom to speak Freedom to NOT practice your religion Freedom to control my destiny

[ Parent ]
He did not blame Apple (0.00 / 0)
He equated Apple to Sony, He said the system is broken and you are hindered in your choices to get this unique technology.  To the parent post above, whatever baby steps Apple is helping the industry to make, they pale compared to the change that would be wrought by an open frequency.

[ Parent ]
more please (4.00 / 2)
Since you ask, I found the video very interesting and vote for more.

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

That's a great video (0.00 / 0)
and I went right over to www.savetheinternet.com/airwaves
and signed and forwarded it to everyone on my email list.

I was furious when I found out the IPhone would be an AT&T exclusive.  I couldn't do it now even if I wanted to because I'm one of those still in a 2 year contract.  But to make it a 'closed system' as is noted in the video is really shitty.  And I know some Apple/Mac people that were furious that they couldn't watch LiveEarth on their computer because that was an exclusive arrangement with MSNBC using Internet Explorer.  My friends was so pissed off!  And now Apple goes and makes the IPhone an AT&T thingy.  That's competition for you! 

Well in fairness to Apple... (4.00 / 1)
they did approach other telecom companies and AT&T, as much as I can't stand them, were the only ones who would accept the deal blindly. Now were the other companies DUMB when they turned Apple away...yeah. But I guess the point now is to open it to everyone. I don't think Apple will mind. But AT&T might have a problem with it.

[ Parent ]
Petition (4.00 / 1)
I'm not sure the reason for the petition... I mean yes to show dissatisfaction, but Cingular has a 5 year contract with Apple.  They aren't letting that Cash Cow go...

I wonder if in the future we will see Apple merge or buy out one of the smaller carriers.

Just some links for the fire...


[ Parent ]
but the next phone from the next company (4.00 / 1)
can be different.  What about open source technology that would let you sync all the cool functions of the iphone without the need for a mac.

[ Parent ]
you dont' need a mac now /nt (4.00 / 1)

-jason The UpTake

[ Parent ]
plus (4.00 / 2)
the carrier for the iPhone had to change many things in their system to make the features on the iPhone work.  Only Cingular and now AT&T have the 'ability' to carry the iPhone.

With that said, go sign up for 'Save the Internet' because this airwave business if for real, and worth fighting for.


We can work out the technical issues with new technologies later.

-jason The UpTake

[ Parent ]
strangely enough (0.00 / 0)
I was able to watch some of it live at MSNBC on my Mac, and many windows media will work on the Mac.  It's obvious that they deliberately make many live events not work (like the Presidential debates.)

New Jersey politics at Blue Jersey.

[ Parent ]
IE (0.00 / 0)
What's really bad about it is that if they just made an IE version for Mac again it isn't an issue at all.  I love safari, but my Yahoo advanced email won't work with it, so I have to then download firefox, which for whatever reason tends to lock up on my Macbook. 

BTW, OT and all, but do you know of any good sites to get some  answers to a MAC problem.  I removed the trial Office software from my Macbook and then installed the full version on Entourage I have... the Mac won't open it at all saying its not the right version.  Any idea where I can go to figure it out.  Its driving me nuts and while on a PC I'd have it fixed in two seconds I'm lost on fixing it on a Mac

[ Parent ]
iPhone + AT&T = Evil?!?!? (0.00 / 0)
We Americans live in a strange time: More Americans have died on Iraqi soil than in the WTC...with no real sign of stopping or even slowing down. We have a income tax system that no sentient creature understands. Losing your job, and as a result your health insurance, can become a de facto death sentence...

and amongst all this unadulterated insanity and carnage... You chose to single out Apple's exclusivity contract with AT&T, as though it was the epitome of Corporate Malevolence.

The Apple/AT&T partnership is just that, a partnership in manufacturing and service. It doesn't strike me as sound business practice to create such an exclusive partnership for the sole purpose of forcing people to terminate their contracts with other service providers. Again, I'm not privy to the exact details of the deal, but I find it much more likely that AT&T (or rather Cingular at the time) was simply more flexible to Apple's terms.

Don't get me wrong, Net Neutrality is an issue of critical importance to every single person on the planet, let alone citizens of the United States. Much more so than some tarted up little digital trinket (a tarted up digital trinket which I happen to own and be very satisfied with.). Having more details on the actual legislation itself, rather than Apple's sinister plan to screw you into terminating your family's wireless contract, would have been more productive and would have reflected much better on the Left-Wing.


As with the Hebrew National kosher meat products brand, (0.00 / 0)
... I guess there is a "higher power" (higher double standard) that some people expect Apple to answer to.

[ Parent ]
Close, but no cigar... (4.00 / 1)
While I laud the intent of the video there is a big reason you can't get an iPhone on Verizon and it has nothing to do with competitive lock-in, or out in this case.

The iPhone uses the GSM mobile standard which is the international standard (except South Korea). Verizon and Sprint (and South Korea) use CDMA. The technologies are incompatible. You can't take a Verzion phone and use it on Att's network and vice versa.

Apple chose GSM because it is the world wide standard. That way they would only have to develop one version, not two or more.

The only other US carrier that the iPhone can run on is T-Mobile.

The good news is that the Copyright Office has ruled that unlocking a phone is exempted under the DMCA for three years. So once the hackers figure out how to unlock it, you can use it on T-Mobile. And unlike every other phone, you don't need to activate at the time of purchase.

There are so many good points (0.00 / 0)
in that video. And I'm happy to get involved in things like net neutrality, etc. I particularly like the point he made about certain companies disabling the wireless in your phone so you have to use their network. The good news is that TMobile now offers that very thing and advertises it as a feature, so I hope it will catch on.

On the other hand, as other commenters have already mentioned, I find the choice of the iphone a bit strange. Many phones are exclusive to one company when they premier - wasn't the RAZR an exclusive as well? Also, ATT and Apple, beyond having a fancy phone and an exclusive deal, don't seem to be engaging in the kind of practices he's speaking about. You can use whatever wireless networks you want with the iphone - and in fact they encourage you to, rather than use the slow ATT network.

Also, people hacked the iphone already, so you can now use it with TMobile (and any other GSM-based companies) if you are so inclined. While I wouldn't necessarily hold hacking up as the platonic ideal of society (contacting the FCC about predatory practices as you suggest is probably better), it does serve as a quick and dirty market corrective, if you will, to a lot of consumer-unfriendly business decisions. 

iPhone exclusive contract (0.00 / 0)
Problem? What problem?

Apple's deal with Verizon is simly a business decision. Apple certainly has no market power in this endeavor except if it is that it innovates and markets better than anyone else. Surely they are entitled to make any deal they want to claim the gains from such innovation---gains which motivate them to continue to deliver to consumers such innovations and which spur others to try the same thing.

Maybe Apple made a misstep here. The market---ie our & competitor responses to their product/service---will let them know. There is no need to screw this up by extending telecommunications regulation to handsets (again).

It's AT&T (0.00 / 0)
Verizon decided not to make a deal with Apple.

[ Parent ]
neither did AT&T (0.00 / 0)
Cingular made the deal, then they were bought out by AT&T, but the deal was made before that buy-out.

I am no fan of AT&T, and would love if the iPhone was available with more carriers, or open on the airwaves!

-jason The UpTake

[ Parent ]
Good job, but there's more... (0.00 / 0)
In the wireless world, and in the iPhone case especially, there's other issues that are just as pressing: content issues.

Which we have on the internet, too.

I was amazed when I bought my Nokia phone recently: I could actually move pictures to the internet without having to go through their goddam phone!

I don't know if it's a rarity or if it's commonplace today, but I do know it wasn't always the case with camera phones.

And no manufacturer would make a camera phone that could because....of the agreements carriers made with handset vendors.

And then there's the another issue of content: iPhone and iPod storage of content, as opposed to reception and transmission of content.

I pay 99 cents per song, and I can't play the damn stuff on a non-iPod.

Frankly, that's bullshit, pardon my language.

Excellent post (0.00 / 0)
It amazes me that people so quickly forget the shady business AT&T has gotten into in the face of a shiny toy like an iPhone. Not only are they a staunch foe of open networks in general and Net Neutrality in particular, but they're also one of the chief operators in the Bush administration's warrantless wiretapping operation--and they, along with Verizon and BellSouth (which is now AT&T), turned over millions of customer records to the government without our knowledge or permission.

This company is a bad actor, plain and simple. Apple may have been dictating the terms of the deal, but the money going into AT&T's coffers will ensure they can push forward their efforts to kill NN and continue to violate our rights.

I wrote about how buying the iPhone is subsidizing AT&T's efforts to monopolize the market myself last month: http://scholarsandro...

w00t! on the UPDATE! /nt (0.00 / 0)

-jason The UpTake

Thank-You! (0.00 / 0)
As a network administrator who spends a lot of time trying to 'splain technology to people with their eyes glazed over after my first sentence, I loved your explanation! As an advocate for low income people, my fear is that over 50 MILLION Americans will be permanently locked out of the Internet, permanently keeping them where they are, as technology advances. So, I have also sent this out to the groups working with low income folks so they are aware how at-risk they are. 

I want to thank your work from the bottom of my heart.

Cat In Seattle

an open wireless network (0.00 / 0)
could revolutionize the country.  Free internet for everyone.  Well, maybe I am getting ahead of myself.  Would they charge people to use this internet?

Too little too late? (0.00 / 0)
It's good to see the current criticism of the AT&T/Apple deal and iPhone service - but this partnership was announced over 6 months ago, what took so long? I'm also struck that Free Press now bemoans AT&T when they supported (even celebrated) the AT&T/Bell South merger back in December because AT&T uttered the words 'net neutrality' and in a handshake and a wink agreed to recognize it for 2 years (18 months to expiration). It was this merger that netted AT&T ownership of Cingular, making them the biggest cellular network, not to mention creating a 200 billion dollar behemoth that is much harder to contend with now.

I could ramble on about the AT&T-NSA scandal and how using an iPhone would subject all your communications to filtering via NSA facilities, but that case was thrown out of court last week, so apparently those secret rooms don't exist afterall (at least in the courts).

On the 700MhZ spectrum - yes a very big deal - worth watching very closely and giving support to the more authentic open network proposals vying for spectrum.

slight correction (0.00 / 0)
Freepress opposed the merger, but they also argued that if the merger were to happen, it should be conditioned on net neutrality and a few other conditions.

[ Parent ]
Criticism misplaced? (0.00 / 0)
I don't see how ATT & Apple should fall under criticism for this relationship, if anything they should be praised unless I'm totally misunderstanding the point.  If the issue is stripping off Wi-Fi capabilities to force you onto the phone's broadband plan, doesn't the iPhone represent a huge step in the right direction?  I love the way the phone searches for Wi-Fi first before sending you to ATT's Edge network. 

The video left me a little unclear about the locking vs unlocking issue, which really isn't the core of the issue at all.  It's not just that our cellphones are locked which prohibits mobility between carriers, more importantly it's the failure to establish a standard.  Ben's example of the Sony flatscreen TV is only half the story because if you moved to Europe, your flatscreen TV most likely won't work, certainly your old VHS tapes won't play in your new deck, because Europe is on the PAL broadcast standard while the US & Japan are on NTSC.  This became a big issue when Hi Def first came in until the Government established what the line-rate standard will be for Hi Def.

The issue really is GSM vs CDMA, or ATT & T-Mobile vs. Sprint & Verizon.  Or is it too late to mandate Sprint & Verizon to change their system?  The Sim Card has always had the advantage because it is truly portable, allowing you to move from one device to another seamlessly without activation charges or early termination tied to your device rather than your service.  But its hard to imagine the government mandating a common standard mid-stream rather than let the free market decide, any more than they stepped into the Beta/VHS or IBM/Apple battles.

Disingenuous and selective attention (0.00 / 0)
Calling this issue one of "net neutrality" is a fallacy and does damage to the real internet neutrality movement. The iPhone is not a core component of the Internet nor is AT&T Wireless itself an infrastructure ISP.

Why is this issue suddenly such a big deal now? Handset locking is not new. It has been going on since the introduction of GSM to America. T-Mobile's Sidekick, like the iPhone, is carrier-specific. Lots of other GSM devices, like the $100 EDGE card I bought off eBay recently, are locked to a particular carrier, in spite of GSM's fundamentally carrier-agnostic design.

Making this about the iPhone is a straw man. Handset carrier locking is anti-consumer and should be fought. But it's hardly an Apple and AT&T problem. It's industry-wide.


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