Home & Office

Let my Wi-Fi go: FCC rules Verizon can't charge for Wi-Fi tethering

In what may prove a landmark ruling, the FCC has stated that Verizon can no longer charge users for using their 4G devices as Wi-Fi hotspots.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Verizon Wireless
The FCC has forced Verizon to stop charging an extra free for Wi-Fi tethering.

In a US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling, Verizon was ordered to stop charging users an additional fee for using their 4G smartphones and tablets as Wi-Fi hotspots, aka tethering.
P. Michele Ellison, FCC, Enforcement Bureau Chief, said in a statement, “This case was the first of its kind in enforcing the pro-consumer open access obligations of the C Block [the spectrum band reserved for 4G] rules. It underscores the agency’s commitment to  guarantee consumers the benefits of an open wireless broadband platform by providing greater consumer choice and fostering innovation."
As FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in the same document, "Today’s action demonstrates that compliance with FCC obligations is not optional. The open device and application obligations were core conditions when Verizon purchased the C-block spectrum. The massive innovation and investment fueled by the Internet have been driven by consumer choice in both devices and applications. The steps taken today will not only protect consumer choice, but defend certainty for innovators to continue to deliver new services and apps without fear of being blocked."
In short, “Verizon Wireless offers customers its 4G LTE service on C Block spectrum. Verizon Wireless bid at auction to acquire that spectrum, understanding that it was accompanied by open device and application obligations. Specifically, licensees offering service on C Block spectrum 'shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block network, subject to narrow exceptions.'”
In addition, “Under the terms of today’s settlement, Verizon Wireless will make a voluntary payment to the Treasury in the amount of $1.25 million, and has committed to notifying the application store operator that it no longer objects to the availability of the tethering applications to C-Block network customers” and that Verizon “revised its service offerings such that consumers on usage-based
pricing plans may tether, using any application, without paying an additional fee.”
The bottom line is that you will once more be able to freely share your Verizon 4G broadband connection over Wi-Fi with your other devices and your friends, co-workers, and family's devices. Verizon started closing the doors to tethering in the spring of 2011. Verizon wasn't the only carrier to tax users for using their bandwidth as they saw fit. AT&T had started charging tethering users  earlier in 2011.
In the case of Verizon, the company started charging users a $20 per month tethering charge even if they had an “unlimited” plan. Those days are done. You will now be able to freely share your bandwidth as you see fit.
I never understood Verizon's restrictive tethering policy. The carriers, starting with Verizon, were getting rid of unlimited data plans as fast as possible anyway. "Unlimited data is not something we think is sustainable in the long term," Tami Erwin, chief marketing officer for Verizon, said in a CNET interview. Thus, we were  always  going to end up paying out the nose for any data usage over 2GBs a month anyway. If you wanted to use that bandwidth to say your Verizon smartphone and your Wi-Fi only Apple iPad tablet and Lenovo ThinkPad laptop why should Verizon object? The $20 fee was always about trying to squeeze the customer for the maximum amount of income with the minimum amount of service.
Business being busines you will still almost certainly end up paying more for your 4G broadband as Verizon raises data plan prices in the future., For  now, though you can choose to use your data plan the way you want to use it without any additional fees. And, in the short run, you'll be saving $20 a month.
Related Stories:

Verizon Wireless Galaxy Nexus is a Wi-Fi tethering lemon
Verizon's new Share Everything plans; setting the bar for family plans
How mobile data plans should be set up
Verizon tethering police reach into your phone and disable the hotspot

Verizon targets customers running mobile tethering apps

Editorial standards