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AT&T Faces Net Neutrality Complaint from Public Interest Groups Over FaceTime Blocking

Free Press’ campaign against AT&T’s Net Neutrality violation (click image for further information)

When AT&T customers take delivery of their new iPhone 5 or install Apple’s latest iOS 6 software update, the popular video conferencing app FaceTime will become available to the company’s mobile broadband customers for the first time, if they agree to switch their service to one of AT&T’s new, often more-costly “Mobile Share” plans.

Until now, FaceTime has been limited to Wi-Fi use only, but objections from wireless carriers and some technical limitations kept the popular app from working over 3G or 4G wireless networks.

AT&T’s decision to block the FaceTime app unless a customer changes their current mobile plan has sparked a notification from three public interest groups that they intend to file a formal Net Neutrality complaint against AT&T.

“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,” said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. “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.”

Free Press is joined in the forthcoming complaint by Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

“AT&T’s decision to block mobile FaceTime on many data plans is a direct contradiction of the Commission’s Open Internet rules for mobile providers,” said Sarah Morris, policy counsel for the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute. “For those rules to actually protect consumers and allow them to choose the services they use, the Commission must act quickly in reviewing complaints before it.”

AT&T earlier responded claiming they still allow the app to work over Wi-Fi (yours or theirs), so it cannot be a Net Neutrality violation. The company has spent an increasing amount of energy trying to convince regulators that wireless networks, including Wi-Fi, are largely equivalent. So long as a customer can access an app on one of them, there is no violation according to AT&T.

The company also claimed that since FaceTime comes pre-installed on phones, it is exempted from Net Neutrality regulations.

Whether the FCC will believe arguments that access over Wi-Fi is suitable enough to escape scrutiny for blocking an app on AT&T’s own 3G and 4G networks is open to debate.

The Obama Administration’s FCC has taken a lukewarm approach on Net Neutrality, adopting a compromise that is being attacked in court by MetroPCS and Verizon Wireless and considered insufficient protection by most consumer groups.

Currently there is 1 comment on this Article:

  1. txpatriot says:

    Although I disagree with their position, I’m actually glad they plan to file a formal complaint with the FCC to finally resolve this issue.

    Waging a war in the media to score points with the public is useless. I’ve said along that they should show the courage of their convictions and file formally. Those who whine to the media and leave it there tell me they don’t think they have a case. And if you don’t believe enough in your own argument to file a formal complaint, why the heck should anyone else believe you?

    Also, I hope they in fact file a formal COMPLAINT. Filing a petition to investigate isn’t good enough. The FCC can ignore a petition. Petitions get filed everyday for all kinds of things, and the FCC ignores 99% of them. But the FCC cannot ignore a formal complaint.

    So I give these groups props for filing, even though I think they will lose.

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