Who Matters More: Customer or Contract?

As app-centered wireless heats up it’s time for regulators to decide whose rights take priority.

This past July and August the FCC began investigating AT&T and Apple’s practices in earnest, especially after Apple allegedly rejected a Google Voice application (or according to Apple, “continues to study it”) intended for its highly profitable iPhone App Store. This is cause for concern because Google Voice gives users access to a number of features that serve as alternatives to core iPhone features – including the ability to make long distance phone calls for free. From a cellular expense management perspective Google Voice is a tremendous boon: a money-saving utility that can reduce the costs attached to any applicable cell phone plan.

Apple claimed that Google Voice would “alter the iPhone user experience,” something which it works very hard to protect even if it is notoriously vague about what exactly that means. The Google Voice App might have gone too far by offering an alternative UI and by harvesting user data in a fashion Apple considers to be a security risk.

On the other hand, if Google Voice were allowed iPhone users would still be able to send standard text messages and pay for long distance through AT&T’s network if they wanted to. They would simply have an alternative – and of course, that alternative is in many ways far, far more appealing than what AT&T and Apple are willing to offer. The App would have offered more choice – that’s competition at work.

This is an important issue for telecom expense management because it gets best results from a truly open market, where consumers and analysts alike can hunt down the best offers from a broad playing field. If individual smartphone brands are allowed to keep users from taking advantage of apps that provide superior service, it becomes harder to optimize smartphone costs. And if the FCC allows this kind of anticompetitive lock-in to proceed, competitors will be tempted to follow suit, leading to a smartphone market that cripples possibilities for its users.