Consumer Groups Urge FCC To Accept 'Broad Public Input'

A broad coalition of 15 organizations is asking the Federal Communications Commission to allow greater public input into a proceeding about whether Verizon violated open access rules by allegedly asking Google to restrict tethering applications.

"Given the significance of the issue, as well as the vast number of stakeholders implicated in any potential decision, the Commission should allow broad public input," the groups said in a letter sent to the FCC on Wednesday. Organizations signing the letter include Consumers Union, Media Access Project, New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative and Public Knowledge.

The groups' letter was sparked by a complaint filed last month by advocacy group Free Press against Verizon. Free Press alleged that Verizon violated the neutrality conditions it agreed to when it acquired the spectrum it uses for 4G wireless phones. Among other terms, Verizon said it wouldn't restrict people's ability to use devices and applications of their choice.

Free Press alleges that Verizon broke that promise by asking Google to limit people's ability to acquire tethering apps -- which allow people to use their smartphones to connect tablets or other devices to the Web.

Google has not removed the apps from the Android store, but the company makes apps unavailable to people when carriers say the apps violate their terms of service.

Free Press asked the FCC to investigate, but the agency has not opened the proceeding for public comment. The consumer groups' letter follows a similar request to the FCC by Stanford Law professor Barbara van Schewick. "Verizon Wireless's practice and Free Press's complaint raise fundamental issues of Internet openness policy," she said in a letter to the FCC.

"While only two parties are named in the complaint proceeding, the outcome of the proceeding will have a far-reaching impact on many businesses, innovators, and users in the Internet ecosystem."

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