AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T)'s decision to limit FaceTime on the cellular network to those subscribers with Mobile Share data plans is not a net neutrality violation, the carrier argued Wednesday morning in a blog post shooting down "knee jerk reactions" to its plan. (See AT&T Reserves 4G FaceTime for Data Sharers.)

Bob Quinn, head of AT&T's federal regulatory group, wrote that the carrier doesn't offer any competitive service to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s video chat app, so it's not in violation of net neutrality rules by limiting it to certain subscriber groups. (See AT&T Joins Verizon in the Shared Data Pool.)

"Nonetheless, in another knee jerk reaction, some groups have rushed to judgment and claimed that AT&T's plans will violate the FCC's net neutrality rules," he said. "Those arguments are wrong."

Net neutrality or Open Internet rules state that mobile broadband service providers cannot block apps that compete with their own voice or video telephony services. AT&T is basing its argument, first, on the fact that it doesn't have its own video chat service, and, second, on the notion that a preloaded app has different governing principles to a downloadable app. (See FCC Dings Verizon on 4G App Blocking.)

Quinn argues that FaceTime, as a preloaded app, is subject to reasonable restrictions, and limiting it to Wi-Fi on data plans where capacity might become an issue falls into that reasonable category. The carrier doesn't touch downloaded apps of the same nature, he notes, which could have implications for other video chat apps like Google Talk or Skype. (See Video Chat: Meet the New Data Hog.)

Within an hour of posting Quinn's blog, Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner struck back that the rules make no such distinction between preloaded and downloaded apps and that AT&T's logic on the data usage makes little sense. He asks, if data traffic is an issue, why block FaceTime on a 3GB individual tier plan, but not on a 1GB shared data plan?

"FaceTime allows people to reduce their use of voice services, but AT&T is making you buy unlimited voice in order to use FaceTime over mobile," Turner said in a statement. "AT&T is trying to invent a loophole in the rules, but this kind of anti-consumer behavior is the exact thing the FCC's protections are designed to prohibit."

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless have so far kept quiet on their plans for FaceTime. In AT&T's case, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may have the final say on the legality of its decision as the Free Press is trying to rally consumers to sign a petition urging the regulatory body to get involved.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:23:11 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

After all they dinged Verizon for breaking open app rules on the 700MHz C-Block.

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:23:11 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

If they do, AT&T needs a more conciliatory attitude. I find it so funny they get so indignant about all these issues. They can make their point without being sarcastic and self-righteous. 

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:23:11 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

Sprint's being a little sketchy about it's plans for FaceTime. Spokespeople have implied  to other publications in the past that it would offer it over cellular like any other app, but today a spokeswoman would only say they don't comment on future products or services. I imagine they'll offer it on cellular to avoid backlash like this, but looks like they aren't ready to make a commitment. 

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:23:10 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

It's interesting that AT&T made the distinction between downloadable and preloaded apps. What does that mean for Google Talk, Skype and others? They're downloadable now, but Microsoft will start embedding Skype as a preloaded app on Windows phones. Google could do the same on Android phones. How will carriers respond then?

joset01 12/5/2012 | 5:23:10 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

Well, is a voice call a competing service to a video chat app?

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 5:23:10 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

So long as they don't offer a competing service or app, they can block/restrict/limit any damn thing they want. 

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:23:09 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

It's debateable. In that sense, isn't a text message competitive to voice calls too?

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:23:08 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

Take the long view through absurdium arguments:


1 - AT&T if it does not have an App Store or a Music Service can then block Apple's App Store and iTunes.  No competing service correct?

2 - I could argue that ALL apps are available via the web and by having a web interface thus AT&T competes with all possible apps today.

Now I recognize that on the face these are ridiculous and are intended to be.  But RBOC lawyers will argue that first argument and if they win they will be rewarded by being able to argue against all apps in the future....unless Apple pays them to get them on the phone. :)



DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 5:23:08 PM
re: AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense

If you go with that logic then you'd have to say all digital communication is competitive to a phone call. I don't think the FCC will interpret net neutrality guidelines that broadly.

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