US Telephone Networks ‘blocking’ Tethering apps in Android Market

Some of America’s biggest wireless carriers are trying to restrict access to free apps that let Google Android users use their smartphones as modems, without paying the carriers’ extra fee.

Several blogs have reported in recent days that free Android phone tethering apps that are typically found in the Android Market are no longer available for Android phones on AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile USA. Those on the Sprint NexTel network seem to so far not be affected.

Reports first surfaced from the blog DroidLife that the free tethering app Wireless Tether could not be downloaded onto AT&T and Verizon Wireless handsets.AT&T and Verizon representatives declined to comment, and said that Google chooses which apps are in the Android Market. Neither company would comment on whether they asked Google to remove the Wireless Tether app or any other free tethering app from the Android Market.

A Google spokesman states that they are not “blocking” the apps per se. Instead, Google is simply making it unavailable for download on certain carrier networks at the request of those carriers. If an application is in direct violation of the terms and conditions of a usage contract, a carrier can request Google make the app unavailable. In essence, the apps are still on the Google Market, but they are just not visible to users on certain carrier networks. Apps are only hidden from view if they are in direct violation of the carrier’s terms of service.

But that doesn’t mean that AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile customers can’t get access to these apps. Any app can still be side-loaded onto the device. So if the developer distributes the application file in a way other than the Android Market (say, just as a download from a Web site) a user can install that on his device. Before they do this, however, US Android users should make sure they are actually entitled to tethering on their current plan – or risk the wrath of the carrier. Most carriers have an extra fee for tethering services – AT&T charge $20 per month for it, as an example – and those who tether without paying have already received warnings for their activities.

Be warned – this could turn nasty.

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