AT&T: FaceTime is Preloaded so We can Limit 3G Access

AT&T responded to concerns that it will limit FaceTime video chat access over 3G connections to shared data plans by claiming FCC net neutrality rules don’t prevent it from restricting apps that are pre-loaded on phones. The cell service provider recently said that it is adding limited 3G to FaceTime’s WiFi capabilities when iOS 6 is released, but upset customers by saying the extra wireless access will be limited to subscribers with shared data plans.

AT&T on Limiting FaceTime 3G Access: It's all GoodAT&T on Limiting FaceTime 3G Access: It’s all Good

When Apple showed off iOS 6 earlier this year, the company said one of the new features it would include is support for FaceTime video chats over 3G and 4G wireless data connections. Currently, FaceTime on iOS devices is limited to WiFi Internet connections.

AT&T Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory and Chief Privacy Officer, Bob Quinn said in a statement,

The FCC’s net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones. Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps. Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services. AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems.

Mr. Quinn added, “Although the rules don’t require it, some preloaded apps are available without charge on phones sold by AT&T, including FaceTime, but subject to some reasonable restrictions.”

Not everyone, however, agrees with Mr. Quinn’s views. John Bergmayer, the senior staff attorney from the Internet rights group Public Knowledge, thinks AT&T’s policy violates FCC rules.

“By blocking FaceTime for many of its customers, AT&T is violating the FCC’s Open Internet rules,” Mr. Bergmayer said. “These rules state that mobile providers shall not ‘block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.’ Although carriers are permitted to engage in ‘reasonable network management,’ there is no technical reason why one data plan should be able to access FaceTime, and another not.”

AT&T said it doesn’t have any apps of its own that compete in the video chat market and therefore isn’t stepping on the wrong side of the FCC’s rules. The carrier is also arguing that there’s a fundamental difference between an app that comes preloaded on a phone, like FaceTime, and one that user’s download later, like Skype. As such, the Mr. Quinn implies, AT&T is well within its rights to limit FaceTime’s 3G and 4G access even though it isn’t doing the same with apps like Skype.

While AT&T is upsetting customers with its FaceTime 3G and 4G access policy, Sprint has said it will support the feature with its existing wireless data plans. “We are committed to our unlimited data and that means not charging for data consumption based on the application,” a Sprint spokesperson said.

Verizon hasn’t said yet whether or not it will support FaceTime over 3G, but it’s safe to bet no matter what the company decides it will pay close attention to its wording to try to avoid the backlash AT&T is facing now.

[Some image elements courtesy of Shutterstock]