By Grant Gross
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission should investigate Verizon Wireless for allegedly blocking Google Wallet on a new smartphone available to the carrier’s customers, a law professor has said.
In a letter dated Monday, Professor Barbara van Schewick, director of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society, called on the FCC to look into potential net neutrality violations by Verizon for its decision to leave Google Wallet off the Samsung Galaxy Nexus 4G LTE smartphone. The smartphone went on sale last week.
Verizon’s decision to block Google Wallet on the new phone appears to violate net neutrality, or open access, conditions that the FCC tagged onto 700MHz spectrum that Verizon won in an auction in 2008, van Schewick said. There is “great uncertainty about what exactly” is happening with Google Wallet on the smartphone, she wrote.
“I am writing to ask the commission to investigate the situation as quickly as possible and to send a signal to the market — innovators, consumers, and licensees — that the openness conditions will be enforced,” she wrote in the letter to the agency.
Google Wallet competes with a mobile payment, called Isis, developed by Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, van Schewick said. Isis is scheduled to launch in the U.S. in 2012.
“Verizon’s behavior looks like an attempt to stall a competing mobile payment application until Verizon’s own application is launched,” van Schewick said in an email. “Verizon’s behavior … threatens competition and innovation in the emerging market for mobile payments. If Sprint, the nation’s third largest wireless carrier, remains the only carrier that supports Google Wallet, Google Wallet will be dead upon arrival.”
Verizon has denied blocking Google’s mobile payment service. For Google Wallet to work, the app “needs to be integrated into a new, secure and proprietary hardware element in our phones,” Verizon said earlier this month. A Verizon spokeswoman declined to comment on van Schewick’s complaint to the FCC.
It appears that Verizon is blocking Google Wallet from accessing the so-called secure element of the new smartphones, van Schewick said in her letter the FCC. Without that access, the app will not be able to function, she said.
“Verizon has not explained the motivation for its behavior,” she wrote. “There do not seem to be any technical reasons. In particular, the technology does not seem to pose any threats to the security or integrity of the wireless network.”
An earlier version of the phone, the Sprint Nexus S, includes Google Wallet and has worked without problems, van Schewick added.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant’s e-mail address is email@example.com.