FCC Just Saved Millions of Verizon Users $20 a Month
Second, the ruling only applies to certain Verizon data plans. Verizon's justification for blocking tethering plans has long rested on the idea that subscribers using their phones as mobile hotspots will be sucking up more data. While that argument didn't make sense for tiered data plans where data usage was already limited, it could be argued that it was fair to let the carrier block its unlimited data plan users from attaching multiple data-sucking devices to one account.
As such, the ruling seems to leave intact Verizon's right to block tethering by subscribers with unlimited plans, which are no longer offered by the carrier but are still used by many subscribers on a "grandfathered" basis. The decision is essentially a moot point for those using Verizon's new "share everything" plans, which are more expensive than the old tiered data plans but include mobile hotspot features.
Finally, it doesn't seem that it will have much effect on iPhone users. Apple(AAPL) has long blocked tethering apps on its tightly-regulated App Store, and the ruling won't change that policy. Determined iPhone users have traditionally been able to find a way to turn their phone into a hotspot, either by jailbreaking their phone and using an unauthorized app like MyWi, or by snatching up tethering apps that briefly sneak past Apple's gatekeepers (like iTether or QuasiDisk). Given that all current iPhones run on the 3G network, it seems the ruling as written does not apply to iPhone users anyway. As such, whether or not Verizon iPhone users can now make use of these unauthorized apps would still seem to be at Verizon's discretion.
Matt Wood, policy director of Free Press, told TheStreet sister publication MainStreet, "It's a somewhat limited ruling. But it's likely going to save millions of people $20 a month."
It's also worth pointing out that the FCC's $1.25 million fine against Verizon in this ruling is essentially chump change for the carrier. At a broader level, the intricacies of the ruling and limited scope show just how much more convoluted mobile is making the world of cell phone billing, beyond the existing level of the Universal Service Fund and state sales tax even being applied to a new line activation fee.
Which adds up to one conclusion: Consumers will take any victory they can get.
--By Matt Brownell