Verizon Must Pay FCC $1.25 Million Fine, Let Android Users Tether For Free

Good news for people who enjoy tethering their smartphones, but dislike having to pay their phone company extra for the privilege. Well, as long as those people are customers of Verizon. Who have Android devices. And aren’t grandfathered onto an unlimited data plan. Yesterday, the Federal Communication Commission announced that Verizon Wireless has to allow customers access to third-party tethering applications. Verizon insists that they totally never told Google to withhold tethering apps from their customers in the Android Market/Google Play. But they’re “voluntarily” paying a $1.25 million fine as a result of the investigation, and have agreed to train all employees on why they can’t block users from downloading any (legal) apps.

Tethering, if you’re not familiar, is using your mobile phone’s data capabilities to connect other devices to the Internet. It’s useful when traveling and away from wi-fi, or when your duplex neighbor moves out and the cable company turns off your Internet access, too, for good measure. Apple specifically prohibits third-party tethering apps in its walled garden, but Google doesn’t. (Users with rooted or jailbroken devices can pretty much do whatever they want.)

You’re not going to see AT&T or T-Mobile change their tethering rules anytime soon, though. Verizon had the bad luck to to build its LTE network on C Block spectrum of the invisible communications airwaves, which has exceptionally tight restrictions. Companies using that spectrum can’t restrict what applications their customers can use. Or, in governmentese, companies using C Block “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.”

Verizon Wireless To Pay $1.25 Million To Settle Investigation (Thanks, Jawaka!)
FCC to Verizon: Don’t block tethering apps. Verizon settles for $1.25M [GigaOm]

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  1. Invader Zim says:

    What a nice article to read first thing in the morning. Haha verizon.

  2. Sizlack says:

    Verizon got C Blocked…

  3. TheUncleBob says:

    So… why is it only customers not on unlimited data? Seems odd…

    • TrustAvidity says:

      I think they get away with charging on unlimited plans because they’re afraid of people abusing the network. Those with data caps can only go to a certain amount and then get charged outrageously for anything beyond that.

      • atomix says:

        That’s probably their thought process, but a phone with LTE, >=1GB RAM, dual processors can stream and process a lot on its own.

        • TrustAvidity says:

          I’m one of the few with unlimited data and a Galaxy S3. I use 3 GB a month MAX, more often around 2 GB. I cringe at the thought of being forced into Verizon’s “share everything” garbage.

    • jvanbrecht says:

      I believe it has more to do with how they implemented their LTE plans.

      I believe that if you are upgrading to an LTE capable device (even if you pay full price for the device), you have to switch to one of the new crappy plans, they are not letting legacy unlimited plans upgrade to their LTE network.

      The 3g plans and below are not using the C Block spectrum, therefore they can charge what they want.

      • TheUncleBob says:

        I have a 4G Device with Unlimited data – and so does my wife?

        • jvanbrecht says:

          You are grandfathered into that account, or they screwed up when they set your account up.

      • absherlock says:

        I was at the Verizon store in the Plymouth Meeting Mall yesterday the manager verified that we would be allowed to keep our unlimited data plan so long as we didn’t upgrade our phone using their promotional price. Perhaps she was only telling a half-truth (leaving out the LTE portion), but that’s what we were told.

      • KnightCrusader says:

        Um, wrong. I have a family share plan with 5 Android 4G phones, all of them unlimited. And I only pay a total of $45.15 for the unlimited on those lines each month. Yeah, they aren’t getting me to budge off my plan for NOTHING.

  4. Tegan says:

    Win for Verizon’s customers, but I haven’t had any issues using FoxFi to broadcast wifi for the six months that I’ve been using it. It’s a feature I use very frequently, and as soon as I confirmed FoxFi worked, I quit paying VZW their ridiculous upcharge to do it through them.

    And on a side note, anyone with a relatively recent Android phone who’s looking for a good tethering app should check out FoxFi. AFAIK it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t require that your phone be rooted to use, and it has been very reliable for me.

    • hazycanon says:

      I’ll check that out – the only reason I’ve been rooting is for wireless tethering; especially now that my phone is bugging me to install ice cream sandwich (finally!). And for some reason, I was able to slip by with an upgrade to a Razr Maxx back in February and kept my unlimited data plan, no hassle. About half the time my phone is faster than whatever hotel I happen to be staying at for work.

    • jvanbrecht says:

      For Android phones, it is much simpler to use the 1 click root apps, and then enable tethering that is part of all android devices.

    • alana0j says:

      FoxFi is blocked by AT&T :( Or should I say it was “removed from the Play Store”. My bro has it on his Android and told me about it…

      • CountryJustice says:

        FoxFi is easy to sideload and works great on my SGSII. Scan the QR code on the FoxFi page at the Play Store.

    • StarKillerX says:

      Thanks, just installed it, seems to work great so far.

    • theduchesss says:

      I love foxfi!I heard about it from a friend on TMobile. I have the Verizon unlimited plan with a droid RAZR and foxfi has been a great plus. I use it when I’m in a pinch and need to get to the internet with my Kindle Fire and don’t happen to have any wireless in the area. I try not to use it too much though; I always feel like it’s one of those apps that will eventually be taken away once Verizon finds out how wonderful and convenient it is. Since it uses your data connection, and since we’re being told how expensive Verizon wants to pretend data is so they can pass the [fake] cost to us, I’m sure they’ll find a way to monetize it. Or kill it.

  5. CosmosHuman says:

    OK, Can someone tell me how to tether my laptop? I do have extra USB cables. I have a Droid X and unlimited data plan. Has been unlimited (so far) from day one. What apps do I need to install on my phone? What speeds can i expect? Should I cancel my internet service…my guess is probably not.
    Thank you!

    • rwakelan says:

      When I tethered, I used an app called Easy Tether. You can get a trial from the Play Store and try it out. On 3G, the speeds aren’t all that great, but are acceptable when you need access. I wouldn’t cut your internet service in favor of this though.

    • Ophelia says:

      I would recommend checking out the Droid X forum over on the XDA forums. having just come from a Droid X, it was a pain in the neck to get tethering to work… You have to be rooted (which, at least at the time I did it, with the latest vzw software was not the easiest thing to do ) and then I think I had to flash some files. I think this is a Droid X / locked bootloader thing, I think other phones are easier.

      You should probably not cancel your internet service, unless maybe if you’re on dialup… 3G is not that fast, and likely not as fast as your home connection.

      • jvanbrecht says:

        The locked bootloader will not prevent you from rooting your phone. It will however prevent you from easily switching out the roms. If all the user wants to do is tether, then rooting is the best option, and then enable tethering (and all that info is on xda)

        • Ophelia says:

          No, it doesn’t prevent rooting, but if I remember correctly, the latest vzw firmware removed a lot of the exploits used to gain root – so if you weren’t already rooted, you had to sbf your phone back to a different software load, THEN root, etc. Like I said, it was a while back that I did this, and there may be new exploits discovered since then.

          (And then enabling tethering wasn’t so easy as just rooting. It still detects even side loaded tethering programs and blocks them. When i did it, I had to flash a few files.)

    • JJFIII says:

      Download the PDA NET app. You take your USB cable (or use Bluetoooth) and connect your phone and laptop (or other device). The limited version will allow you to use sites that do not require security authentication. The paid version allows you to go to any site. I use it at clients that do not have wifi or do not allow third parties to get on to their network.
      If you have unlimited from Sprint you can use it all day. If you happen to have a 4G phone in a 4G market you could conceivably get rid of your home internet service. Unfortunately for me, I do not live in a 4G market, but use it in Chicago instead of paying the downtown hotels the $12.95 a day for internet service.

      • jumbojeepman says:

        Yep, this is what I do for emergency internet access on my laptop. I used it for a week when I moved when they couldn’t hook up my cable quickly due to the previous tenant not calling and disconnecting his service.

    • alana0j says:

      I know with my Android if you go into settings>wireless and networks>tethering and portable hotspot there is the option there to tether. I just plug it into my computer using the micro usb-usb cable that came with the phone, set it up to tether and it works great.

    • CosmosHuman says:

      OK, I have the unlimited data and it is 3G. I need to use my personal laptop at work and can’t use the work network. Just connect the cable between phone and and laptop? How does Big Red know what I am doing? i will use one of the mentioned apps listed is comments from others.

      • hazycanon says:

        I believe that Verizon can’t really see if you’re phone is actually being used for tethering using most tethering apps – they just see data being used by your phone. Anyone else know more about this (or correct me if I’m wrong)? I’ve been grandfathered so I have to root or use an app; I can’t turn on ‘Hotspot’ in the settings and have it work.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      Tether.com

      Speed depends on a lot of things. When I’m tethered to my Android phone on T-Mo, I can get anywhere from 0-400k or so. Sometimes odd spikes even higher.

    • Package Man says:

      Until Verizon releases some sort of update, you’ll have to root your phone to tether it without paying for it.

  6. JJFIII says:

    I’ve used the PDANet app for over two years and have never had any issues. There is a huge advantage to having unlimited data plan from Sprint

    • atomix says:

      Especially if you live in the 6 square miles that Sprint has 4G coverage. Then you have it made in the shade!

      Just… Don’t leave the shade, because there’s probably not coverage over there.

      • JJFIII says:

        Enter text…

      • JJFIII says:

        They still never charge me extra, no matter how much data I use. I can be on it for 24/7 in 3g or 4g and no difference. How about Verizon or ATT? I guess you have it made with them, but only until the 15th of the month. I’ll stick with the real meaning of unlimited versus the unlimited by ATT or VZW definition

  7. Murph1908 says:

    “people who enjoy tethering their smartphones,”

    That’s me.

    “but dislike having to pay their phone company extra for the privilege.”

    That’s me too!

    “Well, as long as those people are customers of Verizon.”

    Yep. Me. Go on.

    “Who have Android devices.”

    Yeah, yeah!

    “And aren’t grandfathered onto an unlimited data plan.”

    DAMN!

    • JediZombie says:

      LOL, I had the same reaction!

    • buftar says:

      Yeah, pretty much.
      Between tether restriction and that horse-hockey data share plan, I’m bewildered as to why a company would want to limit the ability to access the ever-accelerating innovation that is mobile information gathering and applicability, particularly when consumers seem to be of the opinion that the very nature of the future of moble technology almost requires an unfettered line of communication with the web.
      Oh wait…money…nevermind.

  8. JediZombie says:

    I won’t even go into how Verizon is evil, everyone knows and is talking about that, I have a question though. That $1.25 Million that they have to pay. Who gets that and what will it be used for?

    Is the FCC saying that?

    • StarKillerX says:

      My guess would be the FCC gets it’s and spend it on a GSA style awards ceremony, but I would be mistaken, it might go to Congress which then will use it for fact finding trips to various tropical locations.

  9. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Frankly, I think all tethering upcharges should be regulated out of the industry.

    It doesn’t cost the service provider anything more if you’re using their data via a tether to a PC, or anything else…data is data. Either you’re moving it, or you’re not. It makes not the slightest difference from the service provider’s standpoint.