Telco giant, WAP underdog have their day in court

France Télécom went to court yesterday to defend its plans to lock its mobile phone subscribers into its own WAP (wireless application protocol) services.

The incumbent telecommunications operator is depriving consumers of freedom of choice by preventing them from accessing services offered by other companies, according to Wappup, a small French software company with designs on the market for WAP services in France.

Users of WAP-enabled mobile phones can access a variety of services such as stock prices, e-mail, or ticket agencies, and even surf the Web. But such phones can be locked by the vendor to allow access only to specific sites or portals. Wappup has asked the French courts to order France Télécom's mobile phone subsidiary France Télécom Mobiles to remove the lock from any phones it sells, allowing subscribers freedom of choice in the WAP services they use.

A spokesperson for France Télécom confirmed that the company was attending the hearing at the Paris trade dispute court today, but declined to comment until the outcome of the hearing was known. A ruling on the matter was expected as early as yesterday, according to the France Télécom official, who asked not to be named.

"Start-ups, as well as more established Web sites, are contemplating mobile Internet today. With the Wap-lock, they are all bound to the diktat of (network) operators, who will become the deciders of their survival," Wappup said in a statement. "What chances for a gay Web site, a youth techno website or simply a very important Web site, the competitor of which belongs to the operator?" the company asked rhetorically.

"We are simply asking for the respect of regulations, that guarantee freedom and punish abuse of a dominant position: operators can offer their portal, not impose it. They must give up blocking their phones," the Wappup statement continued.

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