AT&T is embroiled in controversy after revealing that only customers subscribed to certain plans will have access to FaceTime over the AT&T cellular network. AT&T has attempted to explain its way out of the mess, but the fact is that AT&T is using FaceTime as a bargaining chip to force customers to the new data plans.
Critics have accused the AT&T policy of violating FCC net neutrality rules. Skype, Google+, and other video chat apps are able to be used freely without regard for which data plan the customer subscribes to, so why should AT&T single out FaceTime?
AT&T responded in a blog post to defend itself against those allegations. AT&T explains that the FCC regulations do not require that AT&T allow any pre-installed apps at all, and simply prevent AT&T from blocking apps that might compete with its own voice or video technologies
AT&T points out that it doesn’t even have a competing video chat app, so this particular net neutrality rule can’t apply. From AT&T’s perspective, the limitations its placing on FaceTime over 3G and 4G cellular networks are really an altruistic move to help customers out. “With the introduction of iOS6, we will extend the availability of the preloaded FaceTime to our mobile broadband network for our Mobile Share data plans which were designed to make more data available to consumers.”
I’ll grant AT&T a pass on the net neutrality violation based on the technicalities it pointed out. However--net neutrality aside--the decision to extort customers to switch to more expensive plans is still indefensible.
It ‘s questionable whether switching to one of the new AT&T “Mobile Share” plans is a good idea for many customers. It may make sense for some families, or people connecting and using multiple mobile devices, but mileage will vary greatly depending on just how much data is being used, or what voice and text messaging plan the customer is currently using.
The real question, though, is what’s in it for AT&T? Why should AT&T care at all which data plan you use to conduct a video chat via FaceTime?
If someone has an iPhone 4S on a traditional individual or family plan, they may have a 300MB data plan for $20 per month. If he or she goes over the allotted 300MB, an overage fee of $20 is incurred for an additional 300MB of data. If a customer with a 300MB data plan chose to use 1GB of data in a given month, he or she would be billed $80--$30 more than the 5GB data plan.
It’s all the same 3G or 4G network regardless of which data plan customers subscribe to. If a customer chose to use FaceTime and rack up data charges, that would be the customer’s problem, and it would mean more money for AT&T.
The reality is that AT&T recognizes that iPhone users have been anxiously anticipating being able to use the FaceTime app over a cellular connection, and AT&T is choosing to use it as leverage to extort customers to adopt the new “Mobile Share” data plans. Net neutrality violation or not, AT&T’s FaceTime restrictions are wrong, and it deserves the pubic relations nightmare it created.