AT&T: We’re not violating FCC rules with FaceTime restrictions

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AT&T stirred up a little controversy among iPhone users last Friday when it let customers know it planned to block Apple’s FaceTime video chat over cellular for customers who don’t buy into one of its new Mobile Share plans. iPhone users cried foul, circulated online petitions and claimed the FCC would probably have to be involved. AT&T had clearly had enough of that and issued a response Wednesday on its blog.

The post is long, but here’s the company’s basic response:

FaceTime is a video chat application that has been pre-loaded onto every AT&T iPhone since the introduction of iPhone 4.  Customers have been using this popular app for several years over Wi-Fi.  AT&T does not have a similar preloaded video chat app that competes with FaceTime or any other preloaded video chat application.  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.  Those arguments are wrong.

Why are they wrong? Because, AT&T says, it’s not blocking any apps; users can still use FaceTime over Wi-Fi as before (the cellular option arrives with iOS 6 this fall); and that it’s not blocking services, but providing “more access” to data. AT&T also says there’s a place for “reasonable restrictions” on preloaded apps on the iPhone:

“[S]ome preloaded apps are available without charge on phones sold by AT&T, including FaceTime, but subject to some reasonable restrictions.  To date, all of the preloaded video chat applications on the phones we sell, including FaceTime, have been limited to Wi-Fi.  With the introduction of iOS6, we will extend the availability of the preloaded FaceTime to our mobile broadband network for our Mobile Share data plans which were designed to make more data available to consumers.  To be clear, customers will continue to be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi irrespective of the data plan they choose.

But what’s a pre-loaded app in this case? iPhone users can choose whether or not to download iOS 6. If they elect to upgrade to the new operating system — which automatically installs FaceTime — does that count as a “pre-loaded” app?

Update: It seems that AT&T considers upgrades to iOS 6 as part of the pre-loaded category, which means that those who want to use FaceTime over the cellular network after iOS 6 comes out will have to switch to a shared plan still.

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