AT&T upset a lot of customers when it revealed that it would only allow those subscribed to its new Mobile Share data plans to access FaceTime over 3G/4G on their iOS devices. Today it has responded to that upset by explaining that because FaceTime is a feature built into the iPhone — and not one that is downloaded by the user — the company can disable it as it wishes and there’s nothing you can do about it.
The carrier published a lengthy response to the fiasco on its blog this morning. The bottom line of it is that it’s still going to restrict FaceTime over 3G/4G to certain customers, and that because the FCC’s net neutrality rules don’t apply to pre-loaded apps, the company can get away with it.
The statement read:
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. (I won’t name any of them for fear that I will be accused by these same groups of discriminating in favor of those apps. But just go to your app store on your device and type “video chat.”) Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation.
What these means, then, is that if FaceTime was a downloadable app, AT&T couldn’t block it — just like it can’t block other video calling services that use your data connection like Skype or Tango.
To me, it shouldn’t be about whether or not AT&T’s move is legal, it should be about the impact it has on its customers. It’s unlikely FaceTime is going to have any major impact on the carrier’s networks — after all, who really uses it all that often? — so it has decided to block the feature and charge you extra for it simply because it can.