Sprint embraces Google, hints at an open network

But the cell company's voluntary plan to allow other companies on its network only bolsters the case for FCC regulation.

By Farhad Manjoo

Published July 26, 2007 7:45PM (EDT)

Sprint and Google announced today that they would work together to create custom applications for Sprint's cellphone customers. The deal's significant for a couple of reasons: It marks the first time Google will provide several of its apps to cell customers. Though you can already get Google's search engine through a standard wireless browser (and you can get a Gmail Java program on most cellphones), this deal would let people use the chat application Google Talk and other data services Google is creating on Sprint's WiMAX service, which provides long-range, fast wireless Internet connections.

The program also marks a willingness among cell networks to open up their operations to Internet firms. I've been writing a great deal about Google and eBay's efforts to persuade the FCC to adopt a "wireless Carterfone" rule, which would require that carriers let customers run any application on their phones. On Wednesday, Verizon said it would support letting customers use any device or program they choose on the 700 MHz radio band, which the FCC will put up for auction next year. Now Sprint is saying something similar.

"We intend to operate an open Internet business model," Barry West, who heads the Sprint WiMAX operation, told the Wall Street Journal. The quote seems to suggest that Sprint won't block people from using Skype on its network -- although it's hard to tell, because the Journal also notes that "bandwidth-hungry video and voice services would likely have to pay Sprint a premium to guarantee a high-quality experience for consumers."

This seems crazy. If you pay for unlimited data on your cell plan, why aren't you free to use unlimited data? Why should Sprint charge Skype when they're already charging you? And that's exactly why we need regulation.

Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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