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Summary:

Open Internet groups plans to complain to the FCC about AT&T’s decision to limit Apple’s FaceTime video calling application to its cellular network for certain customers. The groups view the limits as a violation of the network neutrality rules the FCC implemented in 2010.

FaceTime+over+cellular

Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute have informed AT&T that they intend to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against the wireless carrier for violating network neutrality rules. The complaint will address Ma Bell’s plan to keep certain subscribers from using Apple’s FaceTime video calling on the AT&T cellular network. The move was expected, but the timing on when the FCC responds is unclear.

You still get FaceTime, you just can’t use it on certain networks.

In August, AT&T said it would block the video calling feature that will be found in Apple’s iPhone 5 as well as other Apple hardware that updates to iOS 6 unless customers are signed up for one of its new Mobile Shared Data plans. Customers on other plans can use FaceTime via Wi-Fi all they want, but the cellular network will be off limits.

AT&T justified this move in two ways: first it said by being open and transparent about the move it was following the rules that the FCC had implemented with regard to network neutrality on wireless networks. Two, it made a complicated argument around preloaded apps that basically boiled down to, “you can use anything you want on AT&T’s handsets over Wi-Fi, thus we aren’t blocking anything.”

Free Press, which is a network neutrality advocate, isn’t buying it. In release notifying AT&T of its intent to file (an FCC requirement) Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood offers the following quote:

“AT&T’s decision to block FaceTime unless a customer pays for voice and text minutes she doesn’t need is a clear violation of the FCC’s Open Internet rules. 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. 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.”

As I wrote after AT&T said it was not violating the Open Internet rules that forbid a carrier from blocking services that compete with its own services, this move is designed to do two things for AT&T. One, it pushes users to the newer shared data plans that help AT&T offset the loss in revenue from users deciding to dump texting and even voice plans. Two, it seeks to conflate Wi-Fi networks with cellular networks for purposes of abiding by the network neutrality rules.

By making Wi-Fi an equivalent of cellular, AT&T can keep traffic off its cellular network while also limiting where users can use over the top services. And while Wi-Fi networks are common, they aren’t everywhere. Verizon apparently recognizes this. The nation’s largest wireless carrier has said it will not block FaceTime on any device or on any network. Of course, Verizon does have a rather draconian plan already in place to get users to move over to its shared plans, so there you have it.

  1. Whatever logic contortions AT&T went through to justify blocking FaceTime over Cellular, it really can’t explain why iPad data plans are included in its policy.

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  2. Verizon also appears to be in violation of their 700 MHz application neutrality agreement by blocking corporate connectivity (Good Technologies on Android, for instance) without forcing users to pay an upcharge. Other carriers don’t have this upcharge, and I believe VZW is prohibited from blocking traffic based upon application.

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  3. Insatiable Evony Tuesday, September 18, 2012

    If you are a customer of AT&T, the best thing you can do for yourself short of leaving is to remind everyone you know just how horrible AT&T really is. Never fail to mention to people how poor their service has been, how pathetic their own billing system has been, and how arrogant the management of the company has been. The biggest mistake consumers make is appreciating the lousy corporate mentality of large organizations. Speak the truth out loud.

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    1. @Insatiable Evony, sorry but AT&T has been rock solid for me. And quite a few other folks too. I can live without FaceTime too. So your assumptions are incorrect, leading to make arrogant statement with big mistakes.

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    2. I’ve never experienced poor service nor billing issues with AT&T. But that may not be a truth you wish to hear.

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    3. AT&T told me flat out that they do not value me as a customer because I am a “detriment to their network” the only reason I am still with them is because I have been with them for so long that I have a descent plan and unlimited, although now throttled, data plan. AT&T is a terrible company.

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  4. It’s simple, this is a pure profit grab to move AT&T users onto their more expensive Mobile Share data plan (vs. the current Tiered + Unlimited data plans which do not qualify for FaceTime over cellular).

    I’m sick of AT&T playing shenanigans with its most loyal customers, and using questionable loopholes to justify its anti-consumer and anti-innovation actions. As soon as my contract is up in 2 weeks, I’m voting with my wallet and switching over to Verizon.

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    1. Because Verizon’s “draconian” pay full unsubsidized price for your phone or use our shared data plans is so much better for consumers, of course.

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  5. Since Skype can also do calls over cellular, why is AT&T blocking just FaceTime? Or did they block Skype and I missed it?

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    1. It is because skype doesn’t advertise like apple. But I fully agree with your point.

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  6. The FCC should deal harshly with AT&T on this issue. If AT&T is allowed to get away with this it marks the beginning of the end of the free and open Internet. To ensure access sites will have to pay service providers. Sites will obtain this money from their users. No more free services like YouTube and Facebook.

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  7. This is a clear indication that telecoms are the very guys frustrating telecommunication innovation instead of catalyzing it!

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  8. AT&T should have to answer to congress for their schemes. I’m a single person with unlimited text and data that I signed up for four years ago. So if I want to FaceTime anywhere, I have to drop my plan and sign up for a shared “limited” data plan, when I have no family to utilize this plan with.

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  9. ATT reps actually had the nerve nerve to blame iOs 6 for blocking facetime for thosd of us on unlimited grandfathered plans.
    They need to put customer loyalty over profit. As a loyal ATT customer through ALL generations of iPhones I pay ATT more monthly for wireless and U-VERSE than my health insurance!!! Time for an “Affordable Cellular and Cable Act.

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  10. well no one is stopping you from using wifi or your own internet connection at hone and att dosent block skype or like programs yet and the main argument that people re using when they complain is they cant use their unlimited data plan. so its like this guys no one is stopping you from emailing people somthing the deaf can use as far as blind people well you cn make a call sothe diabled argument can get shot down very easily . if you really want to put it to att or verizon just simply stop using their service . thats it .just stop . once they start loosing customers they will go ahead and let you win thats the only real way to vot with a bussines. just dont give them any money. yo may owe them cash for canceling b tin the long rum deciding not to use the servis wil be the only thing thees guys will understand, dont argue with them just quit.

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