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The Verizon saga continues

Today, I sent this complaint to the FCC about Verizon Wireless’ continued refusal to connect my Google Nexus 7 tablet to its allegedly “open” network. It is addressed to Robert Ratcliffe, acting chief of the FCC Enforcement Bureau, with CCs to Ruth Milkman, now the FCC Chief of Staff, and Gigi Sohn, the newly appointed FCC Special Counsel for External Affairs, in addition to William Johnson, a Verizon attorney, and Matt Wood and Josh Stearns of Free Press. I’ll report what I hear as soon as I hear it.

Dear Mr. Ratcliffe,

I write to follow up on my complaint filed with the Commission regarding Verizon Wireless’ continued refusal to connect my Google Nexus 7 LTE tablet to its network as required by the openness clause of the Block C spectrum sale and your Bureau’s consent decree with the company in July 2012.

I went to a Verizon store in Bridgewater, NJ, this weekend and was told that the device still could not be activated and added to my existing data account. Verizon Wireless is thus in continued and flagrant violation of the spirit and letter of its agreements with the FCC and is also in violation of its own statements and assurances to the public.

If the Commission does not order Verizon Wireless to immediately accept the Nexus 7 onto its network and if Verizon does not suffer consequences for its recalcitrance in this matter, then the FCC’s policies and orders on open networks will be rendered toothless and meaningless.

To review the timeline:
* Google announced the Nexus 7 LTE as compatible with Verizon’s 700 MHz network on July 24 of this year.
* The LTE version of the device became available and I purchased it on September 9. Upon delivery, I went to a Verizon store in Bridgewater, NJ, to get it connected and was told it could not be added to my account. Twitter exchanges with Verizon ensued, which exposed the company’s refusal.
* I filed a complaint with the Commission on September 18 (attached). Counsel for Verizon responded to that letter and I responded in turn on the next day (also attached).
* Verizon made public statements about the device needing to go through its own certification process — a contention I will challenge as the device had been certified by the FCC and has proved to work on LTE networks around the world. In any case, the company said that the device entered this process in August and that the process generally takes four to six weeks. Thus the device should have cleared this needless certification sometime between the first of September and the middle of October. It is now November and Verizon still refuses to connect my device.
More detail of the incident and my exchanges with the company can be found on my blog at http://buzzmachine.com/tag/verizon/.

Let me be clear that in the end, the issue is not Verizon’s certification or even the FCC’s but the definition of “open” and whether any device complying with published standards can connect with this network. If the network is truly open as the Commission has decreed, then any device that meets standards for the network should be connected to it with no proprietary certification required. In the Nexus 7, Asus has manufactured a device that meets these standards, has been certified by the FCC, and works on any compatible network as clearly demonstrated with worldwide use. For Verizon to hide behind its claim of a right to certify only brings needless confusion to the Commission’s rules and rulings about open networks. Please consider what happens when the modular phones envisioned by Phonebloks and Project Ara at Google and Motorola are offered and independent, open-hardware makers create devices that are built to open standards: Will Verizon demand to subject every device to months of alleged “certification”? How does that make a lie of open networks?

I also should note that this week, Verizon announced its own competitive seven-inch, LTE tablet, branded the Ellipsis 7. Of course, Verizon is free to sell its own device — indeed, the more competition and consumer choice, the better. But that should have no impact on its support of other devices on its open network and it certainly does not excuse Verizon for refusing to connect the Nexus 7. The fact that Verizon has its own, similar tablet is only more reason that it must be compelled to support the Nexus 7 or else its “open” network is not open at all.

I reiterate my complaint against the company and appeal to you to compel Verizon Wireless to connect the Nexus 7 LTE. I also urge you to consider punitive action so as to underline the importance of open networks, of following agreements and orders from the FCC, and of treating consumers with respect and honesty.

UPDATE: Verizon says that it will wait until Android 4.4 KitKat is installed, arguing that there were “system” issues in certification.

I smell a rat and I’m looking for the tail. The device has worked with *no* problem on any other LTE network. I got it to work fine on Verizon’s network. What could these problems be? I expect the FCC to ask for clarification.

Bottom line: I’m still waiting.

UPDATE: Verizon sent a letter in response to the FCC, which I’ll paste below, followed by my response in return.

Dear Mr. Ratcliffe:

In his most recent letter to you, Jeff Jarvis again alleges that Verizon Wireless is violating its C Block obligations by declining to activate Mr. Jarvis’s Google Nexus 7 LTE tablet on its network. Verizon Wireless takes seriously its C Block obligations, and, as explained previously, it is fully complying with them, including with respect to the device in question.

The Google Nexus 7 is a tablet developed by Google and manufactured by Asus. Asus initially submitted the device for our certification process in August. As previously explained, Verizon Wireless’s certification process provides a straightforward way to ensure that devices attached to the Verizon Wireless network do not harm the network or other users. This process is fully consistent with the Commission’s C Block rules, which recognize that a provider’s obligation to attach devices only applies in the case of devices that comply with the provider’s published technical standards.1

In the case of the Nexus 7, the certification process has worked as intended. During the certification process for this device, Google, Asus and Verizon uncovered a systems issue that required Google and Asus to undertake additional work with the Jelly Bean OS running on the device. Since Google was about to launch its new Kit Kat OS, rather than undertake this work, Google and Asus asked Verizon to suspend its certification process until Google’s new OS was available on the Nexus 7. So in this case, the straightforward process identified an issue that needed to be addressed, and addressed it in a collaborative and efficient way with the manufacturer and developer.

Verizon is committed to ensuring our customers have the best overall experience when any device becomes available on the nation’s most reliable network. Please let us know if you have any further questions on this matter.

My response:

Mr. Ratcliffe,

I would ask that the Commission seek from Verizon Wireless an explanation of what this “systems issue” is and an explanation of why this issue has not had any apparent impact on any of the many other LTE networks on which many Nexus 7s are running now. I would also ask that this exchange be made public. The Commission still needs to define “open” and its limits and whether this certification is justified.

I would further ask the Commission to examine the anticompetitive questions around Verizon’s delay in regards to the announcement of its own seven-inch LTE tablet in competition with Google’s.

Thank you for your continued attention. I look forward to your and the Commission’s response.

Verizon responds, and so do I

I just received a letter from Verizon’s VP and associate general counsel, William H. Johnson, to the acting head of the FCC Enforcement Bureau, Robert Ratcliffe, responding to my Nexus 7 complaint. I will respond below. First, Verizon’s stand:

In a letter to the Enforcement Bureau, Jeff Jarvis alleges that Verizon Wireless is violating its C Block obligations by declining to activate Mr. Jarvis’s Google Nexus 7 LTE tablet on its network. Verizon Wireless takes seriously its C Block obligations, and, as explained below, it is fully complying with them, including with respect to the device in question.

The Google Nexus 7 is a new tablet developed by Google. Google announced in July that this tablet will run on the Verizon Wireless network. The manufacturer of the Nexus 7 subsequently submitted the device for our certification process in August, and that process has proceeded apace. In fact, we expect final certification of the device will come shortly. Once the device is certified, we will work with Google to enable the device to be activated on our 4G LTE network within a matter of days.

Verizon Wireless’s certification process is fully consistent with the Commission’s C Block rules. Those rules require Verizon Wireless to allow customers to use their choice of devices, but they also recognize that this obligation only applies in the case of devices that comply with the provider’s published technical standards. See 47 C.F.R. § 27.16(b). The Commission recognized that providers may “use their own certification standards and processes to approve use of devices and applications on their networks so long as those standards are confined to reasonable network management,” and the Commission allowed providers flexibility in implementing these standards and processes.1 Verizon’s certification process for third-party devices like the Google Nexus 7 is a straightforward way to ensure that devices attached to the Verizon Wireless network do not harm the network or other users. Although Verizon Wireless uses one of the most rigorous testing protocols of any carrier, the process generally takes only between four and six weeks. Certification is done by third party labs approved by Verizon Wireless, and selected by the device manufacturer. Over the years, Verizon Wireless has certified hundreds of devices; information on the certification process is available to anyone at www.opennetwork.verizonwireless.com.

Verizon is committed to ensuring our customers have the best overall experience when any device becomes available on the nation’s most reliable network. Please let us know if you have any further questions on this matter.

In a letter I will shortly send to the FCC, I will ask: What is the definition of “open”? What is the definition of the Block C requirement that allows “customers to use the devices and applications of their choice”?

The industry definitions of openness and consumer choice across GSM carriers all around the world is quite clear: I take a device to Germany, say, buy a SIM, put it in the device, and if the frequencies of the antennae match, then it will work. Full stop. This works because there is an open standard that governs the process, not a closed “certification” process.

The Nexus 7 clearly has met these open standards. It has been approved by the FCC. It works on the networks of AT&T, T-Mobile, and GSM carriers around the world — any one of whom has much, much more experience with GSM than Verizon. As I and others have demonstrated, the Nexus 7 *does* work on Verizon’s network.

That is not the issue. The issue is that Verizon refuses to give me the immediate opportunity — using a device of my choice on an open network — to receive a SIM and add it to my shared data plan. As I noted in my complaint, Verizon agents used this as an opportunity to try to sell me Verizon tablets. That is a consumer issue.

That is in direct contravention of the spirit and letter both of the Block C requirements and the FCC consent decree of July 2012 against Verizon demanding openness and consumer choice on the network.

I continue to ask the FCC to bring clarity to this matter and to assure that Verizon will operate an open network on which the customers — not Verizon — have the power of choice.

Note well that the Nexus 7 is just the first of many devices sure to come to market from all over the world. That development is what was to be encouraged by the clause of the Block C requirements we are discussing. That cannot bear Verizon’s continued interference.

: LATER: I received a letter from Verizon responding to my FCC complaint and I responded in turn in the post above.