Some of the nation's biggest wireless carriers are trying to put the kibosh on free apps that let Google Android users use their smartphones as modems without paying the carriers' extra fee.
Several blogs have reported in recent days that free Android phone tethering apps that are typically found in the Android Market are not available for Android phones on AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile USA.
Sprint customers apparently are still able to access many of these tethering apps from the Android Market.
Reports first surfaced from the blog DroidLife that the free tethering app Wireless Tether could not be downloaded onto AT&T and Verizon Wireless handsets.
AT&T and Verizon representatives declined to comment, and said that Google chooses which apps are in the Android Market. Neither company would comment on whether they asked Google to remove the Wireless Tether app or any other free tethering app from the Android Market.
A Google spokesman told Fierce Wireless that it is not blocking the app. Instead it's simply making it unavailable for download on certain carrier networks at the request of those carriers. If an application is in direct violation of the terms and conditions of a usage contract, a carrier can request Google make the app unavailable, the spokesman told Fierce Wireless.
In essence, the apps are still on the Google Market, but they are just not visible to users on certain carrier networks. Apps are only hidden from view if they are in direct violation of the carrier's terms of service.
But that doesn't mean that AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and T-Mobile customers can't get access to these apps. Any app can still be side-loaded onto the device. So if the developer distributes the application file in a way other than the Android Market (say, just as a download from a Web site) a user can install that on his device.
AT&T has recently made a big push to ensure that people pay to use its smartphones as wireless modems. AT&T has been sending e-mails warning users who are tethering their phones without paying the extra fee. AT&T charges $20 extra per month for the tethering feature. Customers who tether are given 4GB of data to use during the month. Customers who exceed that limit are charged $10 a gigabyte thereafter.
T-Mobile USA charges $15 a month in addition to a smartphone data plan for 5GB worth of data per month. And Verizon Wireless charges its smartphone customers $20 a month on top of its $30 smartphone data fee to use up to 2GB of data per month.