Take FaceTime, for example, which doesn’t work on the iPad over LTE. You know what works just fine? Two iPads, with one piggybacking off the other’s LTE mobile hotspot. Or an iPad tethered to an LTE smartphone. Or a portable hotspot like an LTE MiFi, which can serve other devices as well. (Or Skype.) Remember the PS Vita’s 3G model, which can’t play online games over cellular? Hook it up to an LTE hotspot in an area with good connectivity, and you’ll have no such trouble. But on the flip side, if you don’t pay for that integrated 3G plan and your hotspot dies on the road, your Vita won’t get so much as a status update and your iPad won’t even be able to check important email.
To Verizon or AT&T, it’s the same exact data, and to you it’s a perfectly crisp, smooth video call out in the field or a game on the go, with no need to bump elbows at a local Starbucks or stay at home. But because our cellular carriers have realized that they can charge us extra for each individual device we connect to their network, cap mobile downloads, and influence software providers not to place strain on the network, you end up paying more for less and enduring arbitrary restrictions when you buy devices with integrated cellular. The answer, for now, is to buy a portable hotspot or a tethering plan instead, but the tradeoffs don’t make sense. Why don’t carriers make it worth our while to buy devices with embedded cellular radios?
If you know where I’m going with this argument, chances are you’ve heard it before: the FaceTime issue underscores a massive debate about net neutrality that’s been going on for a long while. If carriers acted like dumb pipes for the data they transport — as they more or less do when you use a mobile hotspot, which is almost indistinguishable from Wi-Fi as far as your device is concerned — then, the argument goes, you’d just pay for the data you use, regardless of what content that data carries or the path it takes to get to your tablet or handheld. The counterargument is typically that carriers need to manage their network, lest it get overwhelmed by the traffic of millions of additional FaceTime users and the like. Still, that’s easily solved: simply charge for the actual amount of data actually used — basic supply and demand — and let users throttle themselves.
Read the whole thing. And a related story:
Fox Business did a good segment on this, here.
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