I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

Summary: 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. The tethering police are here.

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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

Topics: Verizon, Android, Apps, Mobile OS, AT&T

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  • This is why ATT should not buy T Mobile

    T mobile offers this service free.

    ATT does not.

    Another proof that ATT Monopoly is BAD for the US Customer
    Uralbas
    • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

      @Uralbas Actually, T-Mobile does not offer this service for free. They used to allow it, which is to say that they did not block tethering. They also would provide no support for it. But as of the end of last year, new devices require a tethering plan. People circumvent it now as they did then, but it's T-Mobile's policy now to charge for it.

      But yeah, I get your point. AT&T should still not buy T-Mobile. There's not nearly as much competition in the market as AT&T would have us think there is. T-Mobile is a much bigger burr under the saddle of AT&T than Sprint is to Verizon.
      Steve_NYC
    • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

      @Uralbas Many, many years ago the government allegedly broke up Ma Bell with the argument that she had gotten too big for her britches and was a monopoly - something that was then thought to be bad and illegal. What happened????
      GREED and CORPORATISM and the KOCH BROS happened.... Me, I just boycott. I find my life is much simpler and I save soooooo much money. I don't need all this stuff and if younger people would just realize that they're fueling the corporatist monster with their "gimme I want" consumerism, we'd all be better off.
      kentuckywoman2
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @kentuckywoman2

        It's not always quite that simple. Many people are paying for these wireless plans because they're practically a necessity for their work. (EG. I have my own part-time business doing on-site computer service, and my cellphone is my primary business number. The data plan on my phone is my primary tool I need to look things up at customer sites to get solutions to odd problems, and possibly my only usable Internet link to download a driver they need.) There seems to be a prevailing attitude out there that "If you're using this stuff for business, just pay whatever they charge and don't complain." Well, sorry -- but that doesn't cut it with me. I'll pay if I HAVE to, but I'll also complain if I know I'm getting ripped off!

        And as technology marches forward, the "de facto" type of communication people use changes. I'm sure when the telephone was new, a lot of people asked why you'd bother paying for an intrusive and unnecessary device like that. "It's so much simpler and easier to just send a telegram or write a letter!" These days, kids have adopted the cellphone and texting as a primary way to communicate -- whether or not adults "get" it. I don't call that "gimme, I want!" consumerism. I just call it evolution of technology. The real crime is that with all that widespread adoption, prices haven't fallen sharply like they should from mass subscriptions to those cellular packages!
        kingtj
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @kingtj Your argument is extremely hollow. For example, if the possibility had not been there in the first place, what would your solution be???? Please don't expect us to sympathize with you just because you lack insight, and seem to think it's OK to violate the TOS you signed up for. How would you feel if YOUR customers take advantage of you in the same way???

        As for me, I was about to spring for AT&T with tethering, and asked specifically about it - was advised it "is available"... So much for big company honesty.... If they will not include tethering, I'm not interested in their service.
        Willnott
    • All Monopolies are bad for competition ...

      @Uralbas ... but with Verizon hot on their heels, no one is going to argue that ATT is a Monopoly. Should their be smaller firms out their offwer more choice - like T-Mobile and Sprint? Ideally, yes, but without ATT, T-Mobile might go under. Is that any better than ATT buying them out?
      M Wagner
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @mwagner@... T-Mobile go under when they are part of Deusche Telecom???? Ha, ha, ha! If DT had to keep them they would surely not be allowed to go under.
        Actually there ARE other smaller companies like Clearnet & Cricket, but sadly even those have significant distortions in their comprehension of what customers really want, & what it takes to run and build an honest business.
        Willnott
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @mwagner@... if we look at history, we have number portability lawsuit, "i pay for the number so it's mine", Blue tooth "its data transfer technology, not just voice". jail breaking a iphone, "my phone, i can do what i want, given i dont use it to break the law". i can just see a group of business men suing AT&T because of unlawful restrictions on data usage.

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        gogiants
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @mwagner@... Not a problem if you're basically in the house but a real boon if you travel much. They're not for creating like a laptop user might, but most folk just use internet and some odd apps from time to time. Like me here... [url=http://fiveshowerdoors.com/]Shower Doors Parts[/url]
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        lucky2288
    • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

      @Uralbas DUH! The US govt allowed the phone company (Ma Bell, the old AT&T) a monopoly on landline telephone service only. The new ATT may be a stinker, but it's no monopoly. You have a choice!
      mschafer555
    • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

      @Uralbas i don't think the police are here to stay, just because i feel a lawsuit coming. soon there will be a lawsuit on data usage and that will allow users to tether their phone. if we look at history, we have number portability lawsuit, "i pay for the number so it's mine", Blue tooth "its data transfer technology, not just voice". jail breaking a iphone, "my phone, i can do what i want, given i dont use it to break the law". i can just see a group of business men suing AT&T because of unlawful restrictions on data usage.

      what do i buy data usage, or how i am able to use my data?

      you guys just give it time, i am sure in a year or two you will get an email or a letter in the mail saying if you would like to join in this lawsuit against AT&T and verizon please sign here and mail it back to us at XXX lawfirm. just wait a bit some one will sue they always do.
      anonymous
    • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

      @Uralbas You do know that ATT has bought T-Mobile right?

      Eitherways, so long as the thethering police never get across the peaceful bothers of Canada, I and 1000s of Canadian Steve Jobs free (JailBroken) iPhone users have nothing to worry about as we thether with MyWi :) Even if they did, I'm sure they'll be sued immediately as to me, the way they detect such stuff is like privacy invasion :p

      Detecting <b>WHERE</b> I'm using the data is no problem, but detecting <b>WHAT</b> I'm using the data for is a different story :|

      Wonder if this will start pushing U.S. citizens to Canada for a more free (less dictatorship) but much more pricey enviroment, lol :D
      MrElectrifyer
  • What offends me the most..

    is that they are able to detect what you are running on your device. The fact that they seem to be able to disable apps or functions they do not like, is deeply troubling. THAT is an invasion of my privacy. Even more troubling may be the fact that the consumers seem to meekly accept it.

    On second thought, maybe they are getting what they deserve. When you line up to get fleeced, don't be surprised if you get, eh, fleeced. Those shiny new toys are just too irresistible.
    Economister
    • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

      @Economister They really can't, what they can see are things like you streaming flash content on your iPhone or you streaming Netflix on your Android... If you avoid the obvious issues it will look just like you're surfing from your phone and they won't be able to prove otherwise.
      slickjim
      • So how do they ....

        @Peter Perry

        disable tethering in that case? If I just surf from my phone plus 4 tethered devices, they should not be able to tell, but apparently they can. How else do they disable tethering, according to James?
        Economister
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @Economister I'm not seeing where he says that they can disable it if your phone is rooted... As near as I can tell, they can't.
        slickjim
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @Peter Perry

        My undestanding is they removed the app from the market, or blocked it at any rate. It doesn't seem to be a problem if you already had it installed, but I think they do have a kill feature. I do have a problem with that as Economister states. Even using my tethering from time to time, maybe 2-3 times/month, I use about 1.5 GB of data. I shouldn't have to pay an extra $30 for that.
        LiquidLearner
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @Peter Perry They could use deep packet inspection and see what your browser string looks like.
        snoop0x7b
      • RE: I told you the tethering police were coming, and now they are here

        @snoop0x7b: They don't need to do deep packet inspection. The pattern of data consumption is very different on a laptop from a mobile, and it's not difficult to spot someone using a tethered computer.
        Ian.Betteridge
    • I agree.

      @Economister - The original intention was good. But look at all the damage caused by people with ideas of good intention. We can see the writing on the wall.
      People