AT&T Does an About Face on FaceTime

By Paula Bernier November 14, 2012

AT&T recently announced it would enable FaceTime over cellular at no extra charge for iOS 6 customers with an LTE device on any tiered plan, and that it would continue to support the application for customers with any AT&T Mobile Share plan as well as FaceTime over Wi-Fi. The new capability is expected to be available by early January at the latest, according to AT&T.

The move is a change of direction for AT&T, which in August announced plans to block the FaceTime app over its network for all customers not on its Mobile Share data plan. Since then, the company has been in battle with Free Press, New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge. The consumer advocacy groups argued that the restriction violates the FCC's net-neutrality rules. 

Image via Shutterstock

Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, blogged about the wireless carrier’s thinking on its initial position, saying, “As most observers are aware, Apple’s FaceTime application is currently enabled on AT&T’s popular Mobile Share plan as well as on Wi-Fi, though not at this time on our other billing plans. This approach has raised questions and some concerns. We decided to take this cautious approach for important reasons. AT&T has by far more iPhones on our network than any other carrier. We’re proud of this fact and the confidence our customers have in us. But it also means that when Apple rolls out new services or changes, as it did in iOS 6, it can have a much greater, and more immediate, impact on AT&T’s network than is the case with carriers who have far fewer iPhone users.” 

The FaceTime app came preloaded on tens of millions of AT&T customers’ iPhones. Cicconi added that “As a result there was no way for our engineers to effectively model usage, and thus to assess network impact.” In expressing this point, Cicconi noted that impacts could have negative repercussions for other smartphone users on the AT&T network had it not approached the issue with caution.

The Nov. 8 blog indicated that AT&T would roll out the functionality “over the next eight to 10 weeks”. 

Free Press and Public Knowledge are waiting with baited breath and, according to a recent post by The Hill, have said they will file a formal complaint with the FCC if AT&T fails to lift the restriction in a timely manner.

"The law is clear," says Free Press Policy director, Matt Wood. "AT&T cannot block FaceTime based on claims of potential congestion. There’s nothing even remotely reasonable about that approach. AT&T simply can’t justify blocking an app that competes with its voice and texting services unless customers purchase a more expensive monthly plan that includes an unlimited amount of those very same services. AT&T's course correction is a move in the right direction, but until the company makes FaceTime available to all of its customers it is still in violation of the FCC's rules and the broader principles of Net Neutrality."

Edited by Brooke Neuman

Executive Editor, TMC

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