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

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.

  • Bill Whitman

    Jeff, I believe you’re referring to this passage from the agreement.
    “Open devices: Consumers should be able to utilize a handheld communications device with whatever wireless network they prefer; put forth by Eric Schmidt, involked by the FCC
    The Nexus 7 is not considered a “handheld communications device”. To me, this refers to and only phones. Sematics or not, I don’t believe you’re necessarily in the right here.

    • Where does it state that the Nexus 7 is not a “handheld communications device”?

      • Bill Whitman

        I believe phones to be “inherent” handheld communication devices. I believe the FCC does as well. Is the nexus 7 the first thing you pick up when you want to call someone? I know this is semantics, but I see the “intent” of the ruling to be about phones.

        • If the requirement only applied to phones, it would say so. “Handheld communications device” seems to have been written that way specifically to account for future devices that may not have been considered at the time of its writing – such as tablets. A tablet is a handheld device for communications, so there should be no distinction between it and a phone under that term.

        • Bill Whitman

          Just because something evolves to what we want them to ultimately doesn’t mean that was the intent of the device. I didn’t make the ruling, but this is what I see. Up till fairly recently, tablets were consumption/production devices, weren’t they? I believe we’d be best served by a clarification.

        • Bill Whitman

          I don’t disagree with any of this. I’m just presenting a platform as to why I think Jeff might not win this. If we are truly going to change the actions of verizon, we have to vote with our wallets. Look at TMobile, their customers left, that had to change, and they did, for the better. I wanted a Nexus 5. Verizon isn’t carrying it; so I opened a TMobile line. Maybe Jeff should do the same? Maybe not.

        • Fair enough.

          I’m planning to jump to T-Mobile when my Verizon contract ends, for all the reasons you listed.

        • Handheld communications devices are primarily for “calls”?

          If I want to email or chat/”hangout” I actually do reach for my tablet.

          This is about the terms Verizon agreed to for LTE, spectrum which is hardly just for voice.

        • Bill Whitman

          Since this was agreed to in 2009, I doubt you were able to do any Hangouts with anyone. As a matter of fact, there weren’t too many tablets around then either.

          Like I said, given what’s available today, I believe we need a clarification of what a “handheld communications device” is.

        • I think “handheld communications device” is pretty clear on its own. If a device is designed to be held in the hands, and allows communication (in whatever form that may take), it’s covered by the term. Phones and tablets both absolutely qualify.

        • “Communication” is not limited to phone calls, therefor, in my opinion the Nexus 7 IS in fact a communications device… as you can communicate via email, Skype, other IM chat etc…

    • Wazooon

      So what are you holding it with then?

    • Chris Denny

      I have to respectfully disagree with you on this. Any current phone or tablet, capable of communication in any form, via Skype, or other program, and capable of running on wifi or cellular and portable does qualify as a handheld communication device. The word “phone” has grown in it’s definition.

  • Well done Jeff! Keep pushing them on this.

  • Pingback: How convenient: Verizon announces its own 7-inch tablet, even as it locks the Nexus 7 in certification limbo | VentureBeat()

  • Bill Whitman
  • Vu

    Would be swell if any party would shed some light on this alleged “systems issue”. Is this even precedented? A device certified by the FCC running into a “systems issue”?

  • Wazooon

    I get the point of seeing this through and fighting for principles. But I wouldn’t stay for a minute longer with Verizon. Regardless of the hassle of moving elsewhere. Just don’t give them your money.

  • Brian Franco

    Jeff, can this be amended to include the Nexus 5?

    • Witold Witkowski

      No. The Nexus 5 uses CDMA bands, which are not part of the Block C open provision.

      • Brian Franco

        Nexus 5 would work on LTE band 4

      • Brian Franco

        From FCC Filings 7-band LTE (bands 2/4/5/17/25/26/41), CDMA / EVDO rev A, pentaband DC-HSPA+ and quadband GSM / EDGE, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and dual-band 802.11 b/g/n/ac.

  • Witold Witkowski

    Keep the pressure on Jeff. They responded, so they are starting to feel heat.

  • Don’t you think that it’s entirely possible that Verizon has some sort of exclusivity contract that they have to adhere to? If that is true- they don’t have to do anything. And they don’t have to answer your calls to the FCC. Just because they can do a thing, doesn’t mean that they can do that thing.

  • Nicholas Kathrein

    Way to go Jeff! How deep did they have to dig to find an issue? Is this issue detramental to Verizon’s network? I find it hard to believe it is esp like you said it is working fine on all the other networks. I’ve not heard any issues with Europe carriers blocking the Nexus 7. If it looks like a duck and talks like a duck I think we can conclude it’s a duck. Verizon has got a little to cozy as the #1 in the U.S. We should all switch to ATT or TMoble.

  • Eludium Q36

    VZN: “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.”

    Given the headlines since Summer and VZN’s uncontested cooperation, I’d wager the “systems issue” has to do with granting the NSA (and any other strong-arming intell agencies) full unencrypted access to the device’s data stream. Or maybe, just maybe, they stalled the N7 in favor of fielding their own Ellipsis 7-in device. Either way, VZN comes off as a nefarious corporate actor, hate them.

  • Ronald Stepp

    Don’t feel bad Jeff, I have Android 4.1.2 on my Samsung Galaxy S3 as we speak, a version which has been out for over a year and is already at least 2 versions behind waiting for Verizon to “certify” it or whatever they do with Android upgrades. If they don’t give a shit about customers using their own hardware, why would they give a shit about you? I’ve told their twitter account several times I am switching away from Verizon when my contract expires, it just happily and obliviously chatters back inane crap at me.

  • Caputto123

    Yes.! The other day Verizon flag and shut off my sis because I switched it from a hot spot device to my phone I have done this in the past a thousand dollars times and no issue. They told me it was to prevent theft I call bs

  • I’m glad someone that is at least high in the media or press is doing this. If I or any regular person would complain to the FCC, it might have been ignored.

    Also, we are at 4.4.1. What is Verizon’s stance on this now?

    Also #2, Kit Kat (4.4.x) treats mobile data and tethering data differently. I can confirm this on T-Mobile. This is the first time Android has ever done that. Is this the “issue” that Verizon was talking about? If so I’m very disappointed in Google.

    I have a Nexus 5 now. But I was moving from a Nexus 4.

    Nexus 4 with 4.3: data and tethering were fine.
    Nexus 4 with 4.4: data fine. Tethering is flagged.

    This is if you don’t install a custom ROM by the way. I’m talking stock.

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