German Telecom Giant Blocks iPhone Skype App
For the Apple iPhone owners in Germany, who, along with iPhone users around the world, were granted the opportunity this week to download a free application for the ubiquitous VoIP service from Skype, the announcement is playing out more like an April Fool's joke than a reason for celebration. Telecom company Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile, which has exclusive marketing rights to the iPhone, announced it would be blocking the app, claiming it would slow the network.
After a T-Mobile Deutschland spokesman told German media outlets VoIP services "would hinder our network", Skype's general counsel, Robert Miller, immediately responded with a post on Skype's blog. "I find it quite telling that Deutsche Telekom would be so bold as to announce this arbitrary blocking of Skype," Miller wrote. "They pretend that their action has to do with technical concerns: this is baseless."
Miller argues Skype works "perfectly well" on Apple's iPhone, pointing out the "hundreds of thousands of people globally" who use the service. Miller also pointed out the Skype application is s the number one download on the App Store in Germany. "There is no technical justification for this arbitrary blocking of Skype, and it represents a barrier to online business put in place by a private company just because they can, because they control access to the Internet," he wrote.
T-Mobile Deutschland's spokesman Alexander von Schmettow made the comments to the German Web site The Local, arguing it is clearly stated in company customer contracts that VoIP services cannot be used. "There are two reasons for this," he said. "The high level of traffic would hinder our network performance, and because if the Skype program didn't work properly, customers would make us responsible for it."
Schmettow also made it clear that hacking the iPhone to accommodate the application was verboten. "Those who violate their contracts can expect to have them cancelled," he told The Local. "It's the same with any contract. If you rent a no-pets apartment and expect no one to notice your little dog, you can't be surprised when your landlord comes knocking."
The dust-up over T-Mobile Deutschland's stance on VoIP applications is a just one battle in the fight Internet companies like Skype and Google are waging to keep the Internet open and free. Miller laments the lack of power on the part of German or EU regulators, which do not forbid such "blatantly unfair practices", and fears the new EU legislation for telecoms (which the European Parliament and European governments are supposed to adopt later this month) will not help and in may in fact make the situation worse.
"The Internet was conceived as an open network and this has been the root of the dynamism it has enabled," Miller wrote. "Skype passionately believes that consumers should be entitled to access an open Internet on a variety of devices and on fixed and mobile connections to the Internet."