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Verizon, Skype partner on smartphones

Verizon Wireless and Skype still stand on opposite sides of the net neutrality debate. But on Tuesday they announced a partnership that will bring Skype's international calls to smartphones on the Verizon network for free or significantly less than what carriers charge. It was the latest move by Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest wireless service provider, toward embracing the Web and some of Silicon Valley's biggest proponents of controversial open-Internet rules.

Verizon has partnered with Google on developing mobile phones based on the search giant's Android open-source software. The companies have jointly filed with the Federal Communications Commission ideas for how the telco and Internet industries can work together on open-Internet guidelines. In 2007, Verizon bought a swath of spectrum in a federal auction that came with conditions that would prohibit it from blocking applications on its network. But when it comes to new rules at the FCC, Verizon told the agency the industry doesn't need them -- particularly for wireless networks.

Still, the exclusive partnership stands in contrast with Verizon's biggest competitor, AT&T which last month announced it would stop blocking Internet-based voice services for the iPhone from working on its network.

Christopher Libertelli, Skype's senior director of government and regulatory affairs for North America, said the partnership was the first Skype has made with a telecommunications carriers. And it signals progress in Skype's mind on a journey toward getting telecommunications and cable companies to allow applications, like Skype, that once appeared as a threat to their underlying business.

"This is part of a bigger narrative that shows an increasing move toward openness" by Verizon, Libertelli said.

The partnership between Skype and Verizon Wireless is exclusive and would only apply to 3G smartphones for Verizon. Beginning in late March, users would still have to buy into voice and data plans to make unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls to anyone around the globe. And those among Verizon's 90 million subscribers who adopt the application could call regular phone lines at lower rates. The application, that would be downloaded onto nine phone initially, would allow for instant messaging and eventually lead to video conferencing, the companies said. Those functions would be Internet based and draw from data plans.

The application will be available on the BlackBerry Storm and Curve and Motorola Droid.

In a news conference with reporters, Verizon Wireless executives said the partnership would stretch to other parts of Verizon's business, including its FiOs broadband and television service.

"Close your eyes. Now how cool would it be to have FiOs and Skype and LTE-enabled products? And then we will come back and tell you more about that when we are ready," said John Stratton, Verizon Wireless's chief marketing officer. "There are lots of great things we are thinking about. Millions of ideas."

By Cecilia Kang  |  February 16, 2010; 1:17 PM ET
Categories:  AT&T , FCC , Google , Verizon  
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