The iPhone Hearings

by Devanshu Mehta

Susan Crawford, a law professor who specializes in intellectual property and cyberlaw, has a “description of the proceedings at today’s iPhone hearing“: chaired by my own representative: Rep. Ed Markey. Now Mr. Markey usually gets it on the subject of technology (e.g. net neutrality) and even when he is completely wrong (e.g. when he went after the guy who demonstrated a crucial flaw in airline security), he has the sense to very quickly apologize. Generally, however, I am pleased that he chairs the House Commerce Committee (Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet).

The purpose of the hearing was to see if it would be a good idea for Congress to step in to separate the device tie-ins from the networks; i.e. to debate the idea of being able to use the iPhone on non-AT&T networks. Of course, this is only a starting point and one that makes the issue accessible to the masses. The real issue is one that goes back to the original telecom monopoly of all those years ago- AT&T- and how they had the ability to control all the devices that connected to their network. Congress stepped in then and broke that lock, giving rise to a host of devices that could connect to the old phone network. The hope for the wireless networks is the same. According to Crawford, the issue seems to revolve around whether you believe that the wireless sector is competitive or not.

Some highlights from the hearing include:
* Rep. Upton (R-MI) says “imposing Carterphone requirements on wireless networks would “punish” current innovative wireless carriers.” Carterphone is what broke the circuit phone networks control over devices (more on Carterphone below).
* Some “think about homeland security” folks crawled out of the woodwork. From Crawford’s blog: “Verizon witness notes that more flexible phones that work across networks would not necessarily be compliant with new E911 standards requiring access to public safety answering points, disabled-access requirements, GPS, and radio-frequency emission standards. (This was skillfully done- require Carterphone, and no one will be able to call for help.)”
* Steven Zipperstein, GC of Verizon Wireless, said that their customers *aren’t asking* for the ability to bring other devices onto Verizon networks. So- note to Verizon customers: ask!
* According to Crawford, the strongest critics of the current system in the hearing was Mr. Jason Devitt of Vindigo and Skydeck. Mr. Devitt asked “why does the Verizon phone work on GSM networks in Europe, but not the US; why can’t he provide an application that allows a phone to work on all four networks in the US? Why are ringtones so expensive?”

The entire hearing is entertaining and “Susan Crawford’s thoughts”: on other similar issues are also enlightening.

On Carterphone:
The Carterfone is a device invented by Thomas Carter. It connects a two-way mobile radio system to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). The 1968 Federal Communications Commission allowed the Carterfone and other devices to be connected directly to the AT&T network, as long as they did not cause damage to the system. This ruling created the possibility of selling devices that could connect to the phone system and opened up the market to numerous products, including answering machines, fax machines, cordless phones, computer modems and the early, dialup Internet.