BACKGROUND: If you pay your mobile phone carrier additional fees to use a smart phone, does that automatically mean you're entitled to use all the features that phone is capable of? For example, Sprint offers an Everything Data plan which limits the minutes, but provides unlimited text messaging, picture messaging, and data access. Many smart phones are also capable of acting as "wireless hotspots," allowing 3 or more devices to access the world wide web at the same time through the phone. If you are paying for unlimited data on the phone, can the carrier limit data on the hotspot?
I believe that answer is categorically "No." In our case, we activated the phones, the plan and the hotspot together. We cancelled our Sprint modem line, upgraded to smart phones with a 2-year contract, and activated the phones and the hotspot access together. We have between 7 and 9 months left on those contracts. Sprint is now limiting data access from other devices (i.e. the wireless hotspot access), but not data accessed directly on the smart phone. They justify this by saying the wireless hotspot was an "add-on" and not part of the contract and by offering a lower rate for 5 GB to existing customers than options available to new customers. They refuse to honor unlimited data via hotspot or to release customers from breached sevice contracts.
QUESTION: Is it ethical to use the readily available apps to bypass this and screen access by other devices to appear as though the phone rather than the other device (i.e. laptops, game systems, etc.) is using the data?
DISCUSSION: My answer is a resounding YES. I believe the company is bound by the agreement you entered into. In my case, that is unlimiterd data regardless of which device is accessing the service. I am paying the $10 smart phone tax plus the $29.99 hotspot fee ($39.99 total) to access data on my phone. The carrier may feel this is a breach, but I do not. We are discussing "terms of service" interpretation and not theft of property as is a popular argument in the blogosphere. While I am not crazy about throttling, I even see this a reasonable alternative to limiting or charging for overages. Another reasonable alternative would be to look at average usage over a period of time and, if it is truly excessive, then access additional charges or modify the agreement.
CONCLUSION: When you enter into a service agreement, changes must be accepted by BOTH sides. If not, the agreement should be void without penalty to either side. The side mandating the change should access and accept the consequences. In this case, the consequence would be loss of revenue for releasing customers from their contracts.