The PhoneBoy Blog


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What’s Keeping US Mobile Phones in The Stone Age?

Pay Phone There’s an interesting thread going on on Slashdot right now about why mobile phones suck ass in the US. Lots of interesting ideas being spouted off. I can sum up the problem in two words: the carriers. I can also sum up the solution in two words: Carterfone rules.

The mobile carriers are the gatekeepers to the network. They sell both the service and the devices needed to make use of that service. They make it impossible to buy a phone without getting a service contract. And if you buy your phone somewhere else, you may still have to do a service contract. Of course, if you’re with Sprint, Verizon, or some other CDMA carrier, you can’t even use a phone you didn’t buy from the carrier!

And now the solution: Carterfone rules. The Carterfone rules are the reason you can go buy any old phone you want to plug into your landline at home. Before those rules took effect in 1968–and even for several years after–you had to lease your phone from Ma Bell. You were not allowed to hook up any device to the telephone network. Things like answering machines and cordless phones–kind of what the Carterfone device was, ironically–were simply not allowed by Ma Bell. Sound familiar to the state of the mobile phone industry in the US? It should.

While a lot of people talk about adding additional regulation and the like, I think what we need to do is bring the same rules that apply to just about every other aspect of our connectivity and require that the mobile carriers adhere to the Carterfone rules.  Oh sure, carriers can still sell their locked, crippled, buggy device for a song to those that want it. But the rest of us can buy phones we want. And when we’re done with the carrier? We can take it with us to the next carrier–assuming they use the same technology.

Think I’m right or wrong? Let me know by leaving a comment.


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