Cartefone for wireless?

by on February 12, 2007 · 10 comments

Tim Wu will be presenting his paper “Wireless Net Neutrality” at an FTC workshop on network access tomorrow on Wednesday. (BTW: The workshop is free and open to the public.) Basically he’s arguing for Carterfone to be applied to the cell phone industry. The Washington Post has a write-up of the ideas behind the paper and reaction from both sides of the debate.

Until federal regulators issued a landmark ruling in 1968, Americans could not own the telephones in their homes, nor attach answering machines or other devices to them. Now, a growing number of academics and consumer activists say it’s time to deliver a similar groundbreaking jolt to the cellphone industry, possibly triggering a new round of customer options and technical innovations to rival the one that produced faxes, modems and the Internet.

Wireless carriers, which limit what customers may do with their phones, say the move is unnecessary and potentially harmful. But in articles, blogs and speeches, a number of researchers are asking why the companies are allowed to force consumers to buy new handsets when they change carriers, pay a specified carrier to transfer photos from a camera phone, or download ring tones or music from one provider only.

Carterfone was a great decision when it applied to Ma Bell, the quintessential monopoly, and wouldn’t compute for today’s wireless carriers. True, cell phones are locked (except when they’re not, as the article points out, because carriers will often unlock them for you when your contract expires). The one thing the article doesn’t mention is that cell phones are also subsidized. You can always buy an unlocked phone for a premium. I would love to see a greater market in unlocked phones, but if there’s no demand from consumers, I’ll just have to wait along with the proponents of regulation. Question: Unlocked phones are the norm in Asia and Europe. How are they priced there? How do service plan prices compare to U.S.?

  • Tim Wu

    Thanks for the shout-out — but the presentation is on Wednesday, not tomorrow!

    tw

  • Tim Wu

    Thanks for the shout-out — but the presentation is on Wednesday, not tomorrow!

    tw

  • Jamie

    I live in New Zealand, and we’ve only really got 2 cellular networks – Vodafone and Telecom NZ. The prices we pay aren’t going to rival landlines, but they’re not too bad either.

    I’m using a Vodafone “You Choose” plan. This gives me 20 anytime minutes per month for $NZ 19.95. I can then bolt on additional packages, such as off-peak minutes and text messaging, for an additional fee per month.

    See the following sites for cellular pricing:
    Vodafone
    Telecom NZ

    Note: $NZ 1.00 is roughly $US 0.70 at the moment.

  • Jamie

    I live in New Zealand, and we’ve only really got 2 cellular networks – Vodafone and Telecom NZ. The prices we pay aren’t going to rival landlines, but they’re not too bad either.

    I’m using a Vodafone “You Choose” plan. This gives me 20 anytime minutes per month for $NZ 19.95. I can then bolt on additional packages, such as off-peak minutes and text messaging, for an additional fee per month.

    See the following sites for cellular pricing:

    Vodafone

    Telecom NZ

    Note: $NZ 1.00 is roughly $US 0.70 at the moment.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    It’s official: Tim Wu is a communist.

    Seriously, however, the net neutrality activists who over-sold their cause so egregiously in the last session of Congress seem to feel compelled to over-sell the over-sold fears by taking it into areas where they don’t have a shred of a case. The “Save The Internet” coalition funded by Google (by way of Moveon) is now demanding free broadband for everybody, and here we have Prof. Wu, who actually should know better, taking on the highly-competitive cell phone market.

    I suppose this indicates that it’s even easier to commit adultery the second time.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    It’s official: Tim Wu is a communist.

    Seriously, however, the net neutrality activists who over-sold their cause so egregiously in the last session of Congress seem to feel compelled to over-sell the over-sold fears by taking it into areas where they don’t have a shred of a case. The “Save The Internet” coalition funded by Google (by way of Moveon) is now demanding free broadband for everybody, and here we have Prof. Wu, who actually should know better, taking on the highly-competitive cell phone market.

    I suppose this indicates that it’s even easier to commit adultery the second time.

  • fprefect

    It’s true that in Europe phones are generally more expensive, but I would say this is canceled out by the fact that plans are better than what you get in the US (and you’re not stuck in a contract either.) Also, you can get cutting-edge phones in Europe long before their US release, because the manufacturers aren’t dependent on getting a contract with one carrier or another to have their phones sold (and of course, phones aren’t locked down either.)

  • fprefect

    It’s true that in Europe phones are generally more expensive, but I would say this is canceled out by the fact that plans are better than what you get in the US (and you’re not stuck in a contract either.) Also, you can get cutting-edge phones in Europe long before their US release, because the manufacturers aren’t dependent on getting a contract with one carrier or another to have their phones sold (and of course, phones aren’t locked down either.)

  • http://david.sickmiller.com David Sickmiller

    You wrote: “You can always buy an unlocked phone for a premium.”

    If Tim Wu’s paper is correct, most of the major wireless carriers will not let you use that unlocked phone on their networks.

  • http://david.sickmiller.com David Sickmiller

    You wrote: “You can always buy an unlocked phone for a premium.”

    If Tim Wu’s paper is correct, most of the major wireless carriers will not let you use that unlocked phone on their networks.

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