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Skype Asks FCC To Ease Cellular Access

Hoping to enable Skype software to ride cellular nets, the VoIP provider is asking the FCC to let consumers connect their own devices to such services.

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Skype division of online auction company eBay filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday (Feb. 21) asking regulators to force cellphone carriers to loosen their controls on what kinds of hardware and software can be connected to their networks. The petition takes up the cause promoted by a law professor at Columbia University in a position paper recently posted on the Web.

Skype is asking the FCC to apply the so-called Carterfone rules to the wireless industry. Those rules were enacted during the AT&T wired telephone monopoly to force AT&T to let consumers connect phones and other devices to the network, even if the devices were not made or approved by AT&T.

The petition also asks the FCC to start a rulemaking proceeding to determine the legality of the carriers' restrictions on subscribers' full access to Internet-based applications. It asks the commission to oversee a private sector group that would work to set open standards and transparency in wireless networks.

Some carriers now have terms of service that explicitly prevent customers from using the Skype software on their networks. Skype lets users make free long distance calls using voice over Internet Protocol.

No other companies have joined Skype on the petition. However, the company did share its plans with a wide range of technology companies, including some handset makers, who may share their views once the FCC opens the petition to public comment.

A cellular trade group has already reacted vociferously to the petition.

"Skype's self-interested filing contains glaring legal flaws and a complete disregard for the vast consumer benefits provided by the competitive marketplace," said Steve Largent, chief executive of the CTIA in a prepared statement. "Skype's 'recommendations' will freeze the innovation and choice hundreds of millions of consumers enjoy today. The call for imposing monopoly era Carterfone rules to today's vibrant market is unmistakably the wrong number," Largent said.

At least one other group of public interest lobbyists is considering filing its own petition based on the paper that Tim Wu of Columbia posted on his Web site.

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