Verizon tells the FCC that locked bootloaders are awesome

March 1, 2012
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If there's one thing that's sure to tick off an advanced Android user... well, it's probably an iPhone user who thinks Siri is "innovative". But if there's another thing, it's a needlessly locked bootloader making root access and custom ROMs on an otherwise excellent device. Case in point: Verizon's stance on the DROID RAZR, and pretty much all of Motorola's devices and anything else they can get away with to boot. In a recent and seemingly unsolicited letter to the FCC, Verizon explained its position and reasoning behind requiring its OEM partners to lock their bootloader (in some cases). The reason? Why, it's all for you, of course!

Verizon justifies its official stance on locked bootloaders by claiming that it's protecting "customer experience and support": unlocked bootloaders, they argue, could cause problems for end-users, customer support staff and Verizon's network in general. Repeating claims made at earlier points, Verizon stated that "unapproved software" could impact the wireless experience for other customers. Despite spectrum purchases from the US government in 2011, Verizon has no legal obligation to make the software on the devices it sells accessible to its customers - it only has to make access to the network available.

Time for a little editorializing: this is bull. (Eloquent, no?) First of all, unlockable bootloader like the ones found on the Galaxy Nexus and lately HTC's phones don't impact "normal" customers in the slightest. Most Android users don't root their phones, don't install custom ROMs and don't unlock their bootloaders, and are perfectly happy with the experience they get (when the LTE network is working, right, Big Red?) Restricting access to the bootloader doesn't affect the majority of Verizon's customer base at all, it just pisses off advanced users - who of course tend to buy the most expensive devices the most frequently, not to mention spend more on data and extras like tethering.

The claims that an unlockable bootloader affects customer service is likewise a load of fertilizer. The people who root their phones and install custom ROMs aren't going to call the generally clueless customer service reps when something goes wrong, they hop online and find others with the same problem, then fix it themselves. If anythning, customers who unlock their bootloaders are far less likely to be a thorn in Verizon's side from a customer service standpoint. Between more expensive hardware, more data charges and lower per capita calls on Verizon's human resources, rooted Android users must be some of the most profitable of Verizon's end customers by a long shot.

The last point about potential harm to the network and other customers' experience has been bandied about for years, and not by Verizon alone. That said, we've yet to see a single piece of empirical data that indicated "unauthorized software" running on Android has a negative impact on anyone. Yes, Android users bring down a lot of data, but frankly a company like Verizon can handle it, and shouldn't shy away considering how much marketing they're putting into being the most reliable option out there. Show us some evidence of real adverse effects from unlocked Android users, Verizon, or give up this specious line.

All that said, Verizon isn't about to change its mind any time soon. The best hope that customers have is that after its acquisition by Google, Motorola will take Samsung and HTC's lead and offer unlockable bootloaders on all its upcoming phones. (Verizon's policies aren't universal - they seem to be encouraging partners to lock down their devices, not requiring it.) In the meantime, vote with your dollars: if you're a Verizon customer who's fed up with this policy, move to another carrier, and make sure you tell them why. If you can't (and that includes a lot of people) only buy phones that can be unlocked, and do so with reckless abandon.

[via Droid Life]


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  • tommy

    Verizon has that kind of corporate culture. Even 20 years ago their DSL software was a virus on PC computers, it ruined a laptop of mine and could never be removed.  This is an attitude prevalent in new york city software companies of which i’ve worked for 1 or 2. Kind of a corporate protect the assets kind of belief.  Irrational, sure but there nonetheless.

  • crescentmage

    Verizon can get away with this because they control the phones on their network. Even though Verizon has a superior network where I live, I’ve stuck with AT&T so far for this reason. I can always get an unlocked and open GSM phone and use it on AT&T, but with Verizon’s CDMA/LTE technologies, I’m pretty much stuck using whatever they sell. Hopefully someone will create a low-cost multi-band LTE chip so we can actually have phone portability between carriers in the future.

  • Mobeyduck

    Verizon (the co-parent of Verizon Wireless) is in effect 1/2 of old Ma Bell (AT&T being the other half). Bell used to make similar arguments as to why users had to buy their LAN line phones directly from Bell and did not allow third party phones on their network… Because if you tried to connect a non-Bell telephone to the network, you might disrupt the network and impact the user experience. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

    • Gburlyman

       If you’ve been into the programming of the phone, network up/down speed settings in stock AT&T roms, you will notice that they have limited the up/download speeds by half as advertised FFC NO NO, not to mention the carrier IQ software spying issues. Its all about control, theirs and not the end user.

  • Technomage

    I know the article is old, but I thought it important to comment. Not all of the customer service and tech support reps are “clueless”. I’ve worked there for a long time and there are some of us out there that root, mod, and run custom rooms on our personal devices constantly. I haven’t had a device that has went unrooted for longer than two weeks since I’ve been there.

    We are the ones that’s really able to help when you call. We get yelled and screamed at, despite the fact that we are there for a job, just like everyone else. We have the added benefit of enjoying technology, but the added stress of dealing with customers.

    Remember, the next time you call customer service. There is a better than average chance that the person on tux other end is a kind, caring, compassionate, and knowledgeable individual who has issues of their own. Yelling at them isn’t helping the situation one iota. Help them help you. Of course, if you get an asshole on the other end, tear them a new one. They are jaded and need to move on anyway.