In what I think is sure to set a significant precedent that will affect thousands of smartphone users across the country, the FCC recently told Verizon Wireless that the company can no longer block access to tethering apps that allow subscribers to bypass Verizon’s more expensive tethering plans. Additionally, Verizon has to pay the US Treasury $1.25 million.

The FCC’s statement specifically states that the carrier can continue to charge its standard fee of $20 for tethering on grandfathered unlimited plans, but tacking on an extra charge to capped data plans is highway robbery, plain and simple. So, if you pay for 2GB of data each month, you should be able to use those 2GB any way you see fit. However, the carrier can still protect itself from abuse of its unlimited data plans by charging extra for tethering.

It’s unclear how this will affect carriers such as Sprint, who continues to offer unlimited data plans on all of its smartphones. On the one hand, Sprint was guilty of blocking tethering apps in the Google Play Store late last year, but they’ve since seemed to relax a bit. Sprint is also in the somewhat odd position of capping tethering plans, even though the smartphone data itself is unlimited.

In any case, I agree with the FCC: I don’t think that any carrier should block access to any app. That is censorship, and it goes against the open nature of Android. On the other hand, I do think that carriers who offer unlimited data plans should be able to protect themselves from abuse. It’s certainly a sticky area, to be sure, but I’d like to know what you think: are tethering fees a reasonable expense that a carrier should ask its customers to pay, or should all data be treated equally? Does it matter if a plan is capped or unlimited?

Sound off below.

[Ars Technica | Image credit: TMCnet]