Access to the mobile Web differs greatly from access to the traditional Web. Where a user can access the Wired Internet without any resistance, control, or persuasion from those who grant access, such as broadband providers and ISPs, access to the mobile Web is largely dependent on and regulated by wireless carriers.
This imposes a large hindrance for mobile content providers, SMS providers and others in the mobile ecosystem that rely on the mobile Web – and open access to which – to conduct business, reach consumers and provide the content that mobile users demand. Though the FCC has made moves to combat the issue of wireless carrier control and open access to the mobile Web, one group in particular is taking things into its own hands.
The Mobile Internet Content Coalition (MICC), which currently consists of mobile content providers 4INFO, Myxer and mobileStorm, formed recently to petition the FCC in favor of providing consumers “access to the content of their choosing without improper interference by wireless providers.”
The MICC has prepared a formal response to the FCC in relation to the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking; “Preserving the Open Internet,” and “Broadband Industry Practices.” The goal of the response is to promote ease for consumers to get the mobile content they want, and to protect their right to access that content on their mobile phones. “It should be as easy for consumers to access the mobile Internet and other mobile content as it is for them to access the wired Internet,” the prepared document states.
“The underlying desire is for the Mobile Web to be treated simply as the web, with the same openness enjoyed by desktop computing,” explained Jeff Sass, VP Business Development and Chief Evangelist for MICC member company Myxer, Inc. in a recent interview. “Ultimately the consumer should have the choice and control to access and consume any content they may desire from any source, without interference of any sort imposed by the Internet service provider, or software or hardware manufacturers.”
Unlike the wired Internet, a limited number of wireless carriers control the vast majority of the wireless market. Four carriers – Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint-Nextel, and T-Mobile – control 90% of the U.S. wireless market, with Verizon and AT&T combined in control of 60% of the wireless market. In conjunction with that consolidation, access to the Internet by a mobile phone is becoming increasingly common and mobile Internet usage has escalated as wireless networks have been upgraded and mobile phones have included data features. For the year 2009, data traffic exceeded voice traffic and that will only increase in 2010 and beyond.
In addition, SMS is increasingly becoming another means for consumers to access the mobile Web and its subsequent content, thus SMS is a critical and growing aspect of the mobile Web which is largely hindered by wireless carrier control. A shining example of which is the hurdles one must face to register a short code to begin distributing mobile content. The MICC’s response to the FCC clearly spells out these validated concerns;
“This approval process can take up to 12 weeks time, which is significantly longer than it would take to register a domain name on the Internet. Further, wireless carriers maintain the ability to refuse any campaign that fails some standard or guideline created by the wireless carrier. Sometimes those guidelines are explained, but more often than not, a campaign is denied without a clear explanation of what exactly was objectionable. Wireless carriers also maintain the authority to deny any campaign that may be competitively risky. For example, Verizon refused to approve the short code campaign of a company, Rebtel, which would have allowed Verizon subscribers to make cheaper international calls than the subscriber could through Verizon.”
This type of control would never be acceptable over the wired Internet, where businesses are only limited by their imagination, and where an ecosystem exists that allows entrepreneurial innovation with very few barriers- only having to register a domain name for a nominal cost, for example. This type of freedom of access from both an entrepreneurial and consumer-oriented perspective is what the MICC is trying to accomplish.
“Cleary the web is way more advanced in allowing a business to get going. You can buy a domain, build a website and be selling a product within an hour,” explained Jared Reitzin, founder and CEO of MICC member company mobileStorm, Inc in an interview for Mobile Marketing Watch. “Granted the web has been around longer than short codes, but at some point the carriers need to catch up and automate as much of the short code provisioning process as possible. Not to mention we need the costs of short codes to come down. I can own a URL for $9 a month; a random short code costs me $500. The barriers to entry are still too high for small business, and these are the companies that generate most of American’s revenue. I know there are a limited number of 5 and 6 digit short codes, but there are a limited number of IP addresses as well, so we are now introducing IP6. It’s time for some changes that break down the barriers and put more control in the hands of small businesses, and the MMA to set the rules, guidelines and best practices accordingly.”
The issue remains an uphill battle, however, and exists beyond the barriers of carrier control. “I don’t know if this is something that can be, or will be overcome but we cannot ignore Apple,” continued Reitzin. “They are only going to become more powerful and gain more market share. Their NFC patents that were approved recently only go to show you how far down the mobile road they’re thinking. They are a very large walled garden and if they stay that way, you are going to have a smaller mobile internet. Google on the other hand is trying to balance that out. Very interested to see how everything plays out.”
Whether or not the FCC responds to the formal reply by the MICC, and what the potential outcome may include is yet to be seen, but the gears are already in motion to induce change in the industry. “We have two issues; the first is making sure the right people read our message, and the second is making sure those people are well informed and educated with what we are introducing,” explained Reitzin when asked how the MICC’s response could potentially be received by the FCC. “That being said, I think if we could get in a room together to discuss the topics in person, our message would be better understood and well received.”
When asked the same question, Mr. Sass of Myxer responded “We believe that the current FCC is understanding of these issues and the importance of open Internet principles across all iterations of the Web so that there continues to be a healthy environment for access, innovation and consumer choice.”
Download the full response PDF that was sent to the FCC by the MICC member companies here.