Mobile Video

Open Internet Groups Slap AT&T in the FaceTime

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) dismissed what it called knee-jerk reactions to its plan to limit Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s FaceTime to its Mobile Share data plan users, but several groups are taking their complaints all the way to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) . (See AT&T Reserves 4G FaceTime for Data Sharers.)

Free Press , Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute have now officially warned the wireless operator that they plan to file a formal complaint with the FCC in the coming weeks.

Both Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Verizon Wireless have confirmed FaceTime will be free of charge on all their data plans.

But, AT&T is taking a different route. The carrier said in July that all its customers will be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi as they always have been, but to use it over the cellular network with iOS 6 they would have to subscribe to a Mobile Share data plan. The carrier's regulatory chief, Bob Quinn, addressed net neutrality concerns, calling them wrong, in a blog post last month. (See AT&T Plays FaceTime Defense and AT&T Joins Verizon in the Shared Data Pool.)

What AT&T and the advocacy groups are fighting over is the FCC's Open Internet rules, published in 2010, that state that mobile broadband service providers cannot block apps that compete with their own voice or video telephony services. AT&T's argument is that since FaceTime is preloaded, it has different restrictions from downloadable apps, to which the groups collectively say, "Phooey."

"It’s particularly outrageous that AT&T is requiring this for iPad users, given that this device isn’t even capable of making voice calls," Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood wrote in a statement. "AT&T's actions are incredibly harmful to all of its customers, including the deaf, immigrant families and others with relatives overseas, who depend on mobile video apps to communicate with friends and family."

The FCC requires groups to give 10 days' notice when they plan to file a complaint. AT&T has yet to respond to the warning.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

patentchoi 12/5/2012 | 5:20:52 PM
re: Open Internet Groups Slap AT&T in the FaceTime

Carriers have deployed caps and/or overage to monetize traffic load. If they start throttling/blocking on a per app basis then a user-experience is further muddied. Allowing certain apps on specific plans just confuses the hell out of consumers. If facetime were to become popular my guess is that consumers will go for a simple plan.

jalawler 12/5/2012 | 5:20:52 PM
re: Open Internet Groups Slap AT&T in the FaceTime

Does AT&T even offer a video conversation service? It may be difficult to win a claim that Facetime competes with AT&T's voice service when the two are qualitatively different.

sarahthomas1011 12/5/2012 | 5:20:52 PM
re: Open Internet Groups Slap AT&T in the FaceTime

Yeah, but you could argue that video calls compete with regular calls and texts. It's also interesting that you can use other video chat services on AT&T's network, so it's singling out FaceTime. I get why it's doing it - to limit the traffic it wil cause and encourage people to move to mobile share plans - but we'll see what the FCC says.

ethertype 12/5/2012 | 5:20:46 PM
re: Open Internet Groups Slap AT&T in the FaceTime

AT&T has offered a video conversation service, called VideoShare.  As best I can tell, they shut it down about a year ago.  But the FCC could easily conclude from that example that FaceTime should be considered competitive to AT&T's actual or potential services.

The broader issue is app discrimination of any kind that could benefit AT&T.  If they force users into newer, more profitable plans or even just suppress usage to keep costs down, AT&T benefits.  This is only one step away from more obvious self-interested discrimination, such as pay-to-play (preferential performance for apps/services that pay AT&T a cut).  We know carriers would love to go there.

I think there is a very strong common-sense argument that service limitations should be application-agnostic (e.g. aggregate data rate limiting or usage caps).  This will be a good test of whether the current rules + public pressure are sufficient to protect app-agnosticism (note I stay away from the term "net neutrality" because it implies different things to different people).  If not, i.e. if AT&T keeps blocking FaceTime for some users, I would expect a new groundswell of support for strengthening the rules. 

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