Verizon Wireless has been a key supporter of Google's Android software for smartphones and other devices, but the relationship between the two companies got complicated last week. Google disclosed that, at Verizon's request, it had withdrawn an innovative feature from a hotly anticipated phone being made for Verizon's network. The feature is a wireless payment system called Google Wallet, which just so happens to compete with a service that Verizon and two other mobile network operators are developing. Verizon denied that it was blocking the application, but the mere suggestion that it might be is reason to support broader federal rules barring telecommunications companies from denying consumers access to their rivals' products and services.
The Federal Communications Commission has adopted several rules to promote open networks, but they've run into tough criticism from conservatives and other opponents of federal regulation. One such regulation, adopted in 2007, requires winning bidders in the auction for a particularly valuable band of airwaves to let customers use the devices and applications of their choice. Verizon uses those frequencies now in its "4G" mobile data network.
Generating even more controversy, the commission adopted a "Net neutrality" rule last year that imposes a similar requirement on DSL and cable-modem services but not on the "3G" mobile networks that serve most smartphone users today. Instead — at the urging of Google and Verizon, among others — it forbids network operators to block only those applications that compete with their voice and video-calling services.