Recently I warned that the major carriers in the U.S. were about to up the ante in the war against the practice of tethering a smartphone to share its data connection. That article was not popular with many readers but as the intent was to warn folks that the practice of tethering was going to cause the carriers to react more visibly to prevent it, it served the purpose. Today word is appearing that AT&T and Verizon have indeed taken the next step to curtail tethering by blocking the Wireless Tether app on handsets on those carriers. It would seem that the tethering police are indeed here as predicted.
The Wireless Tether app allows Android phones that have been rooted to connect devices to the wireless carrier by using the phone's data connection over WiFi. Google thoughtfully put the ability in Froyo, and Android phone owners were quick to jump on it to avoid the monthly fees (typically $20-$30) that carriers charge for the service. Droid Life reported today that the app is no longer available on Android phones on the AT&T and Verizon networks. It no longer shows up on those phones when accessing the Android Market due to a block by the carriers.
I have verified that two Verizon handsets I am testing no longer have access to the Wireless Tether app, so it's clear the tethering police are here to stay. Like many of you, I believe that when I pay for a data plan on a phone I should be able to use it any way I wish, without further charges. Unfortunately, the carriers see tethering as a gold mine and are not going to let that happen. They have the ability to determine when customers are using the free tethering in Android, and they are going to stop it when they detect it.
While we'd like to think that when we pay for a monthly data plan, unlimited or capped, that we are getting a "bucket of data" to use as desired the carriers have a much different view. Today I read through several Terms of Service (TOS) agreements that customers on carriers accept when they sign up, and found proof positive that carriers will never allow customers to do what they want with the data plan.
These carrier agreements all have a clause buried in them that makes it clear that the carrier will monitor the data usage, and in cases they feel the customer is using more than her fair share can shut them off. This cut-off can happen even if the cap has not been breached by the customer. The "bucket of data" we feel entitled to as customers is not ever going to be embraced by the carriers. They view what they supply as a service, for which they can charge a certain amount up to a data cap. If they feel the customer is "abusing" this by using too much at an given time, they can simply shut them down. Check out your own agreement and see what you have agreed to in terms of usage.
This philosophy of the carriers is opposite what we feel as customers we should be entitled to, and unfortunately the carriers will win. They are the tethering police, and they are kicking down the door as we speak.
Image credit: Flickr user OregonDOT