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August 23, 2012

AT&T Defends Claims About FaceTime Over 3G

Remember the good old days of the iPhone when it seemed as it everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) hated AT&T? There was so much talk about how bad AT&T was, so many parody Twitter accounts, so many people venting frustration, there was a real, tangible concern that millions would jump ship as soon as the iPhone came to Verizon. Of course, nothing of that magnitude ever happened. In the weeks leading up to a new iPhone, AT&T is feeling nostalgic it seems and longing for the good old days when they were the only iPhone carrier in town. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like their service, you probably loved your iPhone more than you hated AT&T, so you stayed. It does seem a bit gutsy, however, for AT&T to be playing the same game with 2 other major carriers offering the iPhone now, but I digress…

Earlier this summer, Apple announced iOS 6 would ship with the capability to place FaceTime video calls over 3G. Currently, it’s only been available to users who are on a Wi-Fi network. Of course, as soon as Apple announced it, all eyes turned to the carriers to see if they would indeed flip the switch and let users begin video chatting with abandon.

AT&T had been quiet about their intentions with 3G FaceTime until last Friday, when they announced they’d support 3G FaceTime, but not without a caveat.

iPhone customers will be able to place FaceTime calls over 3G, but before they do, they need to drop their grandfathered, unlimited data plans and switch to one of AT&T’s new Mobile Share data plans. These new plans are one way in which AT&T is cleverly trying to kill off any existing unlimited plans and move their customers to a metered data plan.

Immediately following Friday’s announcement, the Internet did what it does best: It got angry. Soon, many were making accusations that AT&T’s strong arm maneuver to move customers away from unlimited data was a violation of FCC regulations and might even be a violation of Net Neutrality laws, all while AT&T’s executives were trying to enjoy their weekend.

Today, AT&T addressed these accusations in a blog post, calling them “another knee-jerk reaction” wherein consumer groups “rushed to judgment.”

Bob Quinn, writing for AT&T, explains the FCC’s Net Neutrality laws thusly:

“Providers of mobile broadband Internet access service are subject to two net neutrality requirements: (1) a transparency requirement pursuant to which they must disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband Internet access services; and (2) a no-blocking requirement under which they are prohibited, subject to reasonable network management, from blocking applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.”

In short, Quinn writes that because FaceTime ships with the iPhone, and AT&T sells the iPhone, they aren’t really blocking FaceTime, saying it’s still available, just so long as customers jump through AT&T’s hoops to get there.

Furthermore, Quinn writes that any AT&T customer can download any other “video chat” app from any app store, (he actually goes very far out of his way not to name “Skype” here) and as such, there is no blocking going on. In a nice little kiss off, Quinn then finishes by praising the new Mobile Share data plans and suggesting that, even if customers choose not to use their new plans, they can still use the app on Wi-Fi.

As you might expect, this statement has only added fuel to the fire. Speaking to Ars Technica, Research Director for Free Press S. Derek Turner has said, “AT&T is inventing words that are not in the FCC’s rules in a weak attempt to justify its blocking of FaceTime.”

“There is simply nothing in the rules that distinguishes ‘preloaded’ applications from ‘downloaded’ applications. It is interesting to see AT&T try this line of defense, as it is tacitly admitting that it is both blocking FaceTime and that the app does in fact compete with its own offerings. 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. 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.”

Free Press is now hosting a petition to stop “AT&T’s latest attack on net neutrality.”

Ah, yes…iPhone users hating AT&T. Feels like the good old days, no?

Image Credit: Gigra / Shutterstock

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