The iPhone and Skype seem to have a bit of a love-hate relationship. Germany’s Deutsche Telecom AG—exclusive provider of the iPhone in that country via its T-Mobile unit—has made the Skype-for-iPhone application verboten on its network. Meanwhile in Canada, Skype for iPhone is being blocked for nebulous technology licensing restrictions.
Meanwhile, the VoIP application launched for the iPhone in the United States this week, and quickly became the No. 1 free app in the Apple Inc. App Store. But it’s only allowed to work over Wi-Fi, not 3G. That’s a fact that already has one industry group petitioning the FCC to take a look on the basis of net neutrality.
In Germany, DT has declared the use of Skype to be forbidden, threatening to cancel the contracts of anyone with a clever workaround to use it anyway. The reason? T-Mobile says the program violates its customer contract and will spark high data usage with the power to congest and cripple the network.
Skype would have none of that. “They pretend that their action has to do with technical concerns: this is baseless,” the general counsel wrote in a blog post. “Skype works perfectly well on iPhone, as hundreds of thousands of people globally can already readily attest.”
Meanwhile, no one’s really sure why Skype is blocked in Canada. “The Skype for iPhone application is not available for download in Canada at this time,” Chaim Haas, a spokesperson for Skype, said in an email to the Toronto Star. “There is a vague restriction in one of the standards-based technology licenses and Skype is looking into it.”
It might be tempting to blame iPhone carrier Rogers Wireless as the culprit, perhaps wanting to protect its long-distance revenue, but a spokesperson for the operator told the Star that it’s making no effort to prevent iPhone users from using the service. If they can download it, they can use it.
So what’s happening? “The issue is not related to Apple, nor is it specific to Skype,” Haas said, deepening the mystery.
Then there’s the situation in the United States, where AT&T Inc. is preventing Skype from working over its 3G or EDGE networks. There would seem to be little to fear from lost long-distance charges on the part of the carrier, other than international calling, since AT&T requires iPhone users to subscribe to bundled voice and data services anyway, but it’s unclear if the carrier is instead echoing DT and concerned about bandwidth congestion.
Advocacy group Free Press asked the FCC on Friday to investigate whether Apple and AT&T are violating net neutrality provisions by blocking the application.
“Wireless broadband networks cannot become a safe haven for discrimination,” said Chris Riley, policy counsel of Free Press. “The Internet in your pocket should be just as free and open as the Internet in your home. The FCC must make it crystal clear that a closed Internet will not be tolerated on any platform.”