Most of you should be familiar with Prof. Zittrain, a legal scholar, cult-worthy for his wit and ability to resolve lurking conflicts by going meta. He tries through a book and a blog to prevent the Internet from being reduced to closed platforms, controlled by central institutions who only let certain innovations flourish. Legos, PCs, the Web, Open Source are example of generative technologies that have brought far more diverse ideas — while ready-to-assemble toys, AOL, Apple & Mac, iTunes & iPod/iPhone have been fantastic product, but with little room for radically new ideas from outside. Please note his theories are not about good vs. bad as much as long vs. short term.
His latest trick is Herdict, a browser extension to let people around the world compare what sites are unavailable, and sort technical hiccups from political censorship — but the obvious initial object of his lust and his wrath is the iPhone and its open-source twin, the Google-inspired Android. I just forwarded him my opinion on the latest event in that galaxy, and I thought you too might be interested in my say about that recent development of the War in our Pockets.
Tethering apps are applications on your OS-based mobile (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm Pre) that let you connect your laptop through your cellphone, and use your presumably unlimited mobile plan — abuse according to cellular-ISPs and the contracts that they have established with Google and Apple (who pulled all tethering apps from the iTunes App Store). Google still controls Android Market with a licence that is binding enough to have to have them banned from the market. As pointed out by Android Community, the openness of the platform allows users to get the tethering apps directly from the developers (and the ruckus around it will only make those apps better known).
However, I’d argue that tethering is hardly new: you might have some interesting way to make it work but large companies with a megalomaniac leader have a better track record at designing well such obvious features. Tethering is an known, identified service, and there is nothing generative per se in going against what must be the only legible paragraph in the user agreement.
Of course, Apple hasn’t done tethering specifically, but the service could, should exist: a little pressure on the cell-ISP would
help. Being European, I’d even be in favor of a mandatory offer at a reasonable cost-based price — but anyone reasonable (and familiar with how saturated mobile Internet antennas could be) might agree that the added service should be billed on top. I’d love to believe that executives at cell-ISP are, if not reasonable, interested in more revenue, and would agree with me — but the lack of offer leaves me worried.
Having two-tiered price helps the ISP to lower its monthly rate for the tethering-protected option — and more affordable, unlimited mobile internet for the masses is far more generative then free tethering against €5 or €15/month. That’s mostly true because of the spectacular effects of combined congestion & price-sensitive demand: similar configuration have been studied for multiple-way roads (bridges, tunnel) where artificial price distinction ended up being beneficial for everyone.
Once intermediate solution appear, there might be a debate on what to consider tethering if they are ambiguous cases — but innovation would benefit from having a ISP-controlled app on both the iPhone and Android.