AT&T seems confident its ban on Apple’s FaceTime use over cellphone networks among customers on older data plans is legitimate. That confidence is about to be tested thanks to the first steps to a regulatory challenge.
As we’ve previously covered, AT&T will only allow FaceTime over 3G if you’ve signed up to the new shared data plans which have a fixed limit shared among a household. If you’re on an older plan such as those with unlimited data, the feature is Wi-Fi only.
It seems clear to most people that this not only breaches the spirit of net neutrality, but does to in an attempt to get people to pay for more expensive packages. However, AT&T maintains that the policy is OK because of a mysterious loophole that means existing net neutrality regulations don’t apply to pre-installed apps.
Now three advocacy groups are beginning to contest that idea. Free Press, the Open Technology Institute and Public Knowledge have written a joint letter warning AT&T that if it doesn’t rethink the policy, they’ll make a formal complaint to the Federal Communications Commission. Sending such a letter 10 days before filing a complaint is a legal requirement.
The groups argue that AT&T is prohibited from blocking an Internet service that competes with its own business: in this case people making calls over FaceTime rather than using their voice call minutes. S Derek Turner of Free Press says “There is simply nothing in the [FCC] rules that distinguishes ‘preloaded’ applications from ‘downloaded’ applications.”
Another point of contention is AT&T’s comments that it allows customers to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi. Public Knowledge’s John Bergmayer points out that AT&T has no control whatsoever what people do via Wi-Fi, so shouldn’t be claiming credit for “allowing” such use.
Neither AT&T nor the FCC have commented upon the threatened complaints.