But that situation could change if a new initiative by some lawmakers and broadband advocates succeeds. With an assist from Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the advocacy group Free Press launched a new campaign Wednesday, FreeMyPhone, aimed at curbing deals that tie handsets to carriers.
"Wireless companies promise the Internet in your packet, but deliver the walled wireless web," Timothy Karr, campaign director of Free Press, said in a statement. "Through exclusive deals for phones like the iPhone and BlackBerry Storm, wireless companies have stifled innovation, crippled applications, and stuck users with the bill."
Wednesday afternoon, the FreeMyPhone site prominently featured a blog post by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) titled "Who Really Owns Your Phone?"
The move comes the same week that Kerry and three other senators -- Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) -- asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate whether "exclusivity agreements unfairly restrict consumer choice or adversely impact competition in the commercial wireless marketplace."
Visitors to the FreeMyPhone site are asked to sign a petition with demands including "the freedom to choose any phone or network" and "the freedom to access any Web content, applications, or services we want through our phones."
Free Press also reiterated its call for the FCC to confirm that net neutrality principles apply to wireless broadband carriers. The group complained to the FCC in April that AT&T might be violating net neutrality principles by using its partnership with Apple to "hinder consumer choice for anticompetitive purposes."
That complaint was sparked by news that Skype's free telephone service for the iPhone only works a Wi-Fi network and not AT&T's 3G network. Apple imposed the limit, but partner AT&T clearly wanted Apple to do so. An AT&T spokesman said at the time that it was "reasonable for vendors not to facilitate the inclusion of competitors' products and services on the products that we sell."