Since its release on Tuesday, Skype for iPhone has been downloaded more than a million times—that’s a rate of six downloads a second, according to the company. All this despite the fact the software only works via the iPhone’s Wi-Fi connection, and not AT&T’s 3G network.
That restriction has angered some, who have argued that the practice is anti-competitive. Those allegations have been turned up a notch now, as the Wall Street Journal reports that an Internet advocacy group called Free Press has asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether or not the restriction is in violation of federal law.
Free Press bills itself as a nonpartisan organization concerned with media reform. In its open letter to the FCC (PDF link), it asks the government body to confirm that mobile wireless Internet access is subject to the same rules as traditional broadband Internet.
The letter cites the FCC’s Internet Policy Statement (PDF link) which states that “consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice” in order to “preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet.”
A USA Today article published earlier this week talked with an AT&T executive about the issue:
Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s top public policy executive, says AT&T has “every right” not to promote the services of a wireless rival.
“We absolutely expect our vendors”—Apple, in this case—”not to facilitate the services of our competitors,” he says.
“Skype is a competitor, just like Verizon or Sprint or T-Mobile,” he says, adding, Skype “has no obligation to market AT&T services. Why should the reverse be true?”
Meanwhile, Apple has remained mum on the matter, though it’s easy to see why the company might not want to get involved. After all, being able to use VoIP over AT&T’s 3G network could help Apple sell more iPhones by providing another attractive feature—but, at the same time, Apple doesn’t want to risk alienating their business partner.
The U.S. isn’t the only place where VoIP restrictions are irking customers. T-Mobile, Apple’s wireless partner in Germany, has said that not only will it prohibit use of VoIP applications on their 3G network, it’ll also restrict their use on the company’s Wi-Fi hot spot network and cancel the contract of any customers who try to work around the restriction.
In response, the Voice on the Net coalition, which includes Skype, as well as Microsoft and Intel, has asked the European Union to step in and enact policy that would protect consumers rights to choose what applications they can use.
How the FCC and EU proceed could have far-reaching implications not just for the future of VoIP, but in terms of what restrictions mobile operators can legitimately put on the use of their networks, which also may have impact on peer-to-peer programs, live video, and other services.