An FCC probe into whether Verizon violated so-called open access provisions bound to the 700MHz C Block spectrum that it uses to operate its LTE network abruptly ended today with the Commission citing a desire “to avoid further expenditure of public resources” to carry out the investigation. The ordeal originated last year after the carrier had apps that enabled free data tethering pulled from the Android Market, a move that would seemingly conflict with specific FCC language at the time of the C Block sale several years ago:
“Licensees offering service on spectrum subject to this section 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…”
Though the investigation’s being dropped, it’s not without consequences: Verizon needs to pay a $1.25 million fine and agree to drop objections to the 11 tethering apps it had pulled — of course, that objection is less relevant than ever now that Verizon offers no unlimited data plans and no longer charges a plan premium for tethering. Going forward, Verizon is reminded that it can only try to pull apps for C Block (read: LTE) customers that would harm the network or the customers themselves; the company will be required to put a compliance organization in place to make sure that happens. Of course, the loophole language is just wide enough so that Verizon could easily become embroiled in an app-pull controversy again in the future.
Is it a win for consumers? Yes, but a somewhat empty one: the tethering app availability is less of an issue than ever, and $1.25 million is pocket change for the US’s largest carrier.