At the end of July, Google launched the Wi-Fi version of its new Nexus 7 (2013) tablet. The company didn't release the 4G LTE model until last week, which was quickly scooped up well-known journalist and professor Jeff Jarvis. Wanting to connect it to his Verizon Wireless account, he took the device to a local Big Red store. Verizon reps said it wasn't possible because the IMEI numbers weren't added to Verizon's system.
"I'm excited you got your Nexus 7 but not all LTE tablets are created equal. It's not part of our line up & can't be activated," Verizon's official support account on Twitter told him.
Funny thing is, the tablet does work on Verizon's network. He pulled the SIM card out of his Chromebook Pixel and shoved it into the tablet. The only drawback in this scenario is that he couldn't use both devices simultaneously. Even more, other new Nexus 7 2013 tablet owners have gotten the tablet to (unofficially) work on the Big Red's network. Suspecting foul play, he decided to file a complaint with the FCC.
Why? Because of the open access rules that accompanied Verizon's acquisition of the 700 MHz C Block spectrum in 2008. Owners of this slice "shall not deny, limit, or restrict the ability of their customers to use the devices and applications of their choice." Verizon is clearly violating FCC regulations – regulations that even Verizon VP Jim Gerace had to acknowledge in a public policy blog during the spectrum acquisition.
Gerace's statement was in response to a "tough letter" from Google at the time, who demanded that the FCC force Verizon to abide by the rules. "And no wonder, for Google anticipated precisely this situation when it entered the spectrum auction Verizon won and insisted then on open access as an FCC condition of the sale: Google ended up marketing an unlocked device made to run on Verizon’s LTE network and now Verizon refuses to honor its promise to abide by the rules of its auction to do so," Jarvis writes.
Jarvis told the FCC in his complaint that "Verizon is refusing to connect my tablet though it has been approved by the FCC and is compliant with standards such that it is also being offered and being activated on AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s LTE networks." He also claims that Verizon requires that he purchase the tablet from the company, which is a clear violation.
In Verizon's defense to the FCC, the company said that owners of the tablet need to be patient. "Google announced in July that this tablet will run on the Verizon Wireless network," the company states. "The manufacturer of the Nexus 7 subsequently submitted the device for our certification process in August, and that process has proceeded apace. In fact, we expect final certification of the device will come shortly. Once the device is certified, we will work with Google to enable the device to be activated on our 4G LTE network within a matter of days."
Yet something smells fishy. Verizon Wireless acts like it had no clue about the tablet's connectivity until July when the device was announced, and didn't receive the tablet for testing until last month. The device clearly works on AT&T and T-Mobile out-of-the-box, so why not Verizon too? Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood indicates that the delay may be due to the certification process related to Verizon's open access requirement – AT&T and T-Mobile don't have this requirement.
"Verizon's certification process for third-party devices like the Google Nexus 7 is a straightforward way to ensure that devices attached to the Verizon Wireless network do not harm the network or other users," Verizon states. "Although Verizon Wireless uses one of the most rigorous testing protocols of any carrier, the process generally takes only between four and six weeks. Certification is done by third party labs approved by Verizon Wireless, and selected by the device manufacturer."
Previously the FCC's open access rules forced Verizon to lift a block on apps that let subscribers of limited data plans tether their device.