Why you can totally tether your Verizon Android phone for free

Verizon's hunger for spectrum space, and add-on fees, led instead to a flourishing unofficial tether and hotspot market.

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But Verizon was the only carrier who bought a section of the public airwaves, known as “Block C,” (the “Upper 700MHz C-Block,” to be precise) that were up for sale after TV broadcasts were forced to go digital—that great HDTV upheaval you probably remember, with tuner coupons and media freak-outs and such. Ironically, it was Google itself that placed a minimum bid of $4.6 billion that activated an openness clause, although Google itself didn’t follow through to purchase a spectrum license for itself. By placing part of its 4G LTE network inside the C Block, Verizon inherently agreed that it ”shall not deny, limit, or restrict
the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice on the licensee’s C Block
network,“ according to the FCC, with “narrow exceptions.”
.

Basically, Verizon believed that “applications of their choice” did not include applications that replicated the mobile hotspot and tethering features for which they charge the bulk of their existing 4G LTE customers more than $20 extra per month. The FCC heard about the shutdown of third-party tethering, asked Verizon what was going on, and Verizon Wireless replied, as stated in the FCC’s press release:

Verizon Wireless stated that the additional fee reflected the fact that customers who tether laptops or other devices have the capability to use more data capacity than others.

But Verizon wasn’t just charging customers with unlimited plans to narrow the 4G bandwidth, but customers paying by the individual gigabyte. At the same time, it was blocking apps that allowed for tethering, and, of course, charging them if they went over their allotted data transfer amounts. That doesn’t add up to customers with “use (of) the devices and applications of their choice,” so earlier this summer, Verizon paid the FCC $1.25 million and backed off its pressure on Google to curtail tethering apps for its customers.

AT&T and Sprint? Still totally blocking tethering apps when they can. T-Mobile? Mostly silent. But Verizon customers everywhere can use tethering apps however they like. Verizon customers with grandfathered “unlimited” data plans can still be blocked, supposedly, but Verizon can’t always see your tethering activity—especially if you use a deep-down app like, say, ClockworkMod Tether.

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