iPhone's Limits on Skype Stir Debate on Wireless Neutrality

New restrictions by AT&T on Skype calling and video services stir questions of open Internet

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The launch earlier this week of Skype on the iPhone has heated up the debate about customer rights to use their wireless as they want. U.S. consumer groups complain that AT&T has unfairly restricted use of Skype to Wi-Fi hotspots.

Skype competes with the voice service offered by AT&T, which is unapologetic in blocking Skype over its cellphone system. It's similar to the ruckus caused when AT&T said it would limit access to a new, high-speed version of the wired Internet. The phone company wants to give priority to its own services, such as the cable-like TV that it's delivering over Internet connections.

AT&T is also delivering video services over its wireless network. The company this week changed its wireless contracts to protect those services, too, points out Rob Topolski at Public Knowledge:

...it looks like AT&T is trying to exempt its own video services but prohibiting services like the Slingbox or other video web sites.

Forcing wired Internet providers to keep their networks open -- "net neutrality" -- has political footing. As a candidate, President Obama even gave it a vague endorsement. But it's a different ballgame in wireless, notes Liz Gannes at NewTeevee:

Wireless networks don’t presume to be neutral like the Internet — operators have bought the rights to do whatever they want with their wireless spectrum – but this could set new precedents for cramping developers’ and users’ style.

Still, AT&T is stirring things up this week with its new restrictions. We'll see if it goes anywhere.