Skype on cellphones? Skype, Verizon lobbyists square off

Late yesterday at the Von Show, key lobbyists for Skype and Verizon aired their differences with about a matter that you would probably care quite a bit about if you knew more about it.It's my hope that after you read this post, you will.

Late yesterday at the Von Show, key lobbyists for Skype and Verizon aired their differences with about a matter that you would probably care quite a bit about if you knew more about it.

It's my hope that after you read this post, you will.

The issue at hand here is Skype's "Carterphone petition" to the FCC. If granted, that would mandate that most cellphones and other handsets be made available to third-party applications, such as (well, duh) Skype.

But not only Skype. Pretty much everything, as long as the device has the memory to support it.

First, some Clarity about what Carterphone is. This doesn't refer to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. In fact, all this Carterphone stuff goes back to 1968. OK, Wikipedia:

The Carterfone is a device invented by Thomas Carter. It connects a two-way mobile radio system to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The base station of the mobile radio system supplied electrical power for it.

It was electrically connected to the base station of the mobile radio system, and the electrical parts were encased in bakelite. When someone on the radio wished to speak to someone on phone, or "landline", the station operator at the base would dial the number and place the handset on the Carterfone. The device was acoustically, but not electrically, connected to the Public Switched Telephone Network, and did not have the capacity to damage the PSTN.

This particular device was involved in a landmark United States regulatory decision related to telecommunications. The 1968 Federal Communications Commission allowed the Carterfone and other devices to be connected directly to the AT&T network, as long as they did not cause damage to the system. This ruling created the possibility of selling devices that could connect to the phone system and opened up the market to numerous products, including answering machines, fax machines, cordless phones, computer modems and the early, dialup Internet.

Well OK, then, but you know what? This provision was never enforced on cell phones. Perhaps it is because as a practical matter, cellphones did not exist at the time of the Carterphone decision. But just about everybody has a cellphone now, and man, would Skype like to be on there.

Chris Libertelli, who is senior director of government and regulatory affairs for Skype, mentioned in a panel discussion on Network Neutrality that when you buy a television, it doesn't only work with certain channels. For example, if two owners of two different tv set models can each receive, say, "Lost" via their cable service. Or, for that matter, the cable service in question.

"Why do we see closed systems on the wireless side," Libertelli asked. "If (we) believe that software-defined competition is the future, we think we can do better if we open up the whole category of devices."

Chris believes that the reason mobile carriers mostly have not facilitated this capability is because of what he calls "business models... that provides them the incentive to harm application level providers like Skype."

Link Hoewing, who is assistant vice-president of Internet technology policy and business support planning for Verizon, used market-based articulation to defend what some would term cellular technology's walled garden.

The gist of Hoewing's comments were that the current carrier business models have encouraged "$100 billion of investment" on the part of cell carriers, and besides that phones aren't really locked. Plus- and I am paraphrasing- the growth of cell to a near universal-service proves that subscribers rather like the way things are.

"There are tradeoffs in all these business models," Hoewing added.

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