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Google is disabling access to tethering applications in the Android Market at the request of wireless carriers AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.
Wireless carriers aren’t fans of these unofficial tethering apps because they allow subscribers to turn their Android devices into Internet hotspots without incurring additional monthly fees.
Without those Android applications, the majority of wireless subscribers will be forced to spend an extra $20 to $25 per month for the ability to tether, or risk compromising the security of their device (to some degree) by running (sideloading) an app found outside of the official Android Market.
The reaction by carriers to block unofficial tethering is more or less expected, since it lowers the potential revenue brought in by subscribers and adds stress to already insufficient wireless networks. However, Google’s willingness to assist the major carriers is more than a little surprising.
The search engine giant has long since touted its Android OS as superior to other mobile operating systems because of its openness. So, disabling access to any application for any reason seems contradictory, except for cases of malicious intent.
Technically speaking, Google didn’t remove the tethering apps, which can still be pulled up in the Android Market. It just made them unavailable for the vast majority of people using the Android platform. T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon subscribers that attempt to download a tethering apps are met with a gray, disabled link and a prompt that reads “This item is not available on your carrier” — which is pretty much the same as having it removed outright.
Google’s current actions are also contradictory to its $4.6 billion bidding war with Verizon in 2008 to purchase the C Block 700MHz spectrum, which This Is My Next’s Chris Zielger points out, only happened so important “open applications” and “open handsets” license conditions would be triggered regardless of the buyer. The company must have felt strongly about wireless open access if it was prepared to spend billions on the spectrum had Verizon backed down.
Since then, Google has joined Verizon in advocating partial net neutrality to the FCC and had its mobile OS dominate smartphone market share. The company no doubt has a new perspective on wireless and it might not include an open Android platform.