Voice over IP (VoIP) pioneer Skype is seeking to use a 1968 regulatory ruling to open up the US mobile phone industry to devices that are not restricted to a single network and third-party applications – such as its own.
Skype has called on the US Federal Communications Commission to confirm that the landmark 1968 Carterphone decision applies to mobile networks. The ruling, which involved an early wireless handset, said carriers could not prevent consumers attaching any device to the wired telecommunications network as long as it could not do any damage.
Allowing any device to be connected to mobile networks would open the door to new choices for users – including handsets using VoIP for voice calls via operators' 3G (third-generation) data networks.
Almost all mobiles in the US are sold by the operators and locked so they cannot be used on another provider's network. But Skype's proposal would also stop carriers from blocking or forbidding applications on 3G networks – as long as those applications could not damage the network.
The Skype move cuts to the heart of mobile operators' revenue streams, which predominantly come from voice calls and depend on exclusive ringtone, music, video and other services offered by the carriers.
But Skype's senior director for government and regulatory affairs, Christopher Libertelli, said: "What we're trying to do is get in front of that trend so that policy is set in the correct way.”
The mobile industry slammed Skype's petition. Steve Largent, chief executive of industry group the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, said: "Skype's self-interested filing contains glaring legal flaws and a complete disregard for the vast consumer benefits provided by the competitive marketplace.”