The NYT reports on a cellphone rebellion in the making. Once powerless consumers are demanding more open platforms. The always insightful Tim Wu provides some intuitions about the reasons for the revolt:
When a Verizon executive at the CTIA conference was asked by a reporter what he thought of the calls for openness, he said, â€œIf I talk to you and someone sees me, Iâ€™ll get fired.â€ (He asked not to be named, fearing reprisals from colleagues.) Last week, Verizon executives were not available for comment because they were traveling.
Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, said the relationship between software developers, carriers and handset makers can only change because the way that consumers relate to their phones is changing too.
â€œOn a personal level, the phone feels more like property,â€ said Mr. Wu. â€œOnce you start to make it yours, you feel like you have more rights to it. It will have a huge effect if you donâ€™t feel free to do what they want.â€
Cell phone perestroika? From a consumer’s perspective, this comes not a moment too soon. Rob Frieden carefully lists the costs and benefits of separating service from handset sales, but it’s hard for consumers to sympathize with carriers when services appear to have been deliberately throttled or carelessly assembled.
For example, I recently bought an LG phone from Verizon and was assured that I could listen to music on it and take pictures. The music software has proven impossible to install, and–guess what–it costs 25 cents per picture to get photos off your phone. The salesman did not warn me about this–I asked him if the photos were easy to download, he just said “yes, absolutely.” When I found out, I was flabbergasted–the whole point of digital photography is not to have to pay for developing!
I recently heard a Tom Ashbrook podcast where a participant said that certain cell carriers ordered handset makers not to permit people to have easy access to pix from their phone. If that is indeed the case, what is the rationale? Is there an IP model here? Can carriers justify a monopoly over all uses of their phones by arguing that that permits them to extract more revenue from consumers and thereby invest in the network?