AT&T announced a change in policy to allow VoIP calls on the iPhone from its 3G cellular network. The decision may be spurred in part by a motivation to avoid proposed FCC net neutrality rules, but the move actually proves why net neutrality is necessary.
AT&T and Apple are arguably solely responsible for bringing intense scrutiny on the wireless communications industry as a result of the high-profile rejection of the Google Voice app for the iPhone. Granted, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski already had net neutrality on his to-do list, but the questionable motives and seemingly monopolistic rejection of the Google Voice app highlighted the need for the FCC to step in and take a look under the hood.
Skype however does have a VoIP app for the iPhone. The Skype app is limited to connecting over the wifi network and is not capable of routing calls over the AT&T cellular network as a result of the previous AT&T policy.
Earlier this week though, broadband VoIP provider Vonage released a new iPhone app-- which was oddly approved by Apple-- which is capable of connecting over either the wifi or the AT&T cellular network. Interestingly, the Vonage app became available before the official announcement of the change in AT&T's VoIP policy.
The move by AT&T is probably partially an attempt to deflect some of the criticism over the rejection of the Google Voice app and the closed iPhone platform. However, it is more likely that it is part of a larger strategy on the part of AT&T to demonstrate that the wireless industry is capable of policing itself and finding balance to try and avoid the proposed FCC net neutrality rules.
Comcast argued that net neutrality is unnecessary because the Internet has experienced unparalleled success as the net neutrality debate has raged on. The implication is that the advances in technology and competition between Internet providers is in spite of the net neutrality debate. The reality is that it is because of the net neutrality debate.
Like the Comcast decision to reverse its policy of throttling certain types of network traffic, the move by AT&T doesn't justify why we don't need net neutrality-- it proves why we do. It demonstrates that the Internet and wireless providers are like playground bullies who only behave well when under scrutiny.
In the absence of FCC scrutiny and the net neutrality debate, AT&T has no real motivation for leveling the playing field and allowing customers to circumvent its network by using third-party VoIP apps. The change in policy proves that AT&T needs to have FCC oversight and net neutrality guidelines in order to have the incentive to do the right thing.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.