AT&T's recent decision require a Mobile Share plan to access FaceTime over cellular caused a significant outcry from net neutrality supporters Public Knowledge and Free Press, which claim that the company's policy violates the FCC's Open Internet rules. Despite appeals from both groups, AT&T's senior vice president of regulatory affairs Bob Quinn has vocally defended the carrier's position, and denies the claim that the policy violates FCC rules. Here's the latest on what may turn out to be an important battle for the future of wireless net neutrality in the United States.
May 20, 2013
When Google Hangouts first launched, we noted that AT&T Android customers couldn't use its video chat capabilities on a cellular network. A statement from AT&T implied that video chat could be used on downloaded apps (like the iOS Hangouts app), but that Google would need to work with AT&T to enable it for pre-loaded apps, which Hangouts for Android technically is. Now, AT&T has given another statement, suggesting that we could see an across-the-board approval of video chat apps by the end of the year.Read Article >
Jan 21, 2013
AT&T recently made FaceTime calling available to all eligible customers on tiered data plans, but advocacy group Free Press remains unimpressed with the move. Immediately after AT&T announced it would expand support for Apple's video calling protocol, Free Press lambasted the carrier for not opening access to its entire customer base — including unlimited data subscribers. Now the organization is urging AT&T's customers to tell the company how they really feel, and Free Press is even giving them a public platform for the cause. Entering your name, email address, zip code, and ticking a box confirming you're an AT&T user is all it takes to have your comments displayed on the page titled "AT&T. Your World. Blocked."Read Article >
Among the thousands of posts, an overlying theme is deep consumer concern over AT&T's disregard for net neutrality. Feedback also floods in from miffed subscribers with grandfathered unlimited plans. "As an AT&T customer, I am tired of you limiting what I do," says Mike from Chicago. "I pay you money every month to have these features. If I didnt have unlimited data, I would have dropped you guys so fast." Joseph from Miami is far more blunt, saying "you are liars and theives!" Predictably, many contributors are promising to jump ship to a rival carrier when their contracts expire. You won't find any words of praise for Ma Bell as part of this particular effort, but if you've been searching for a crowdsourced list of everything wrong with AT&T in its current state, look no further.
Jan 16, 2013
AT&T announced today that it would be gracious enough to let some more of its users — including those without LTE — to enjoy FaceTime over cellular, as the spirit of net neutrality rules require. But it's just the latest half-measure the company has taken to rectify an issue that groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press have argued all along: that AT&T simply has no right to arbitrarily decide how its customers may use the data they pay for from an ISP. So far the FCC has been reluctant to publicly denounce AT&T for the practice, and it seems intent on keeping any reconciliation between AT&T and interest groups behind the scenes. Sources familiar with the negotiations tell The Verge that AT&T was reluctant to commit even to vague terms that would roll out FaceTime to everyone, and that interest groups only came to a compromise — delaying a formal net neutrality complaint — after being asked by the FCC to keep negotiating with the carrier. John Bergmayer, a senior attorney at Public Knowledge, confirmed that it and other groups spoke to AT&T and to personnel at the FCC last year as they were preparing a formal complaint.Read Article >
Advocacy groups may be pleased with AT&T's latest capitulation to its users, but they're also not backing down on the fundamental complaint that the carrier shouldn't be meddling with FaceTime at all. In a statement titled "AT&T almost, but not quite, stops violating net neutrality," Public Knowledge associate Bartees Cox, Jr. writes that AT&T has yet to go the full distance in complying with net neutrality rules. "By limiting its blockade of Apple's FaceTime application, AT&T now allows most of its customers to use their iPhones as they were designed," Cox writes. "It is good that AT&T is reducing this unnecessary and possibly illegal restriction."
Jan 16, 2013
AT&T has once again loosened the reins on using Apple's FaceTime service: it's now allowing customers on any compatible device — not just LTE-capable ones — to video chat while on a mobile network. Over the next couple of weeks, the company will start rolling out the option to people with compatible iOS devices like the 4S, so long as they're on tiered plans rather than grandfathered unlimited ones; the entire expansion is supposed to take a few months, however.Read Article >
FaceTime has been a point of contention for net neutrality advocates, as it's an example of AT&T cutting off access to an arguably competing service that runs through its network, and the company has recently been attempting to find a balance between allowing calls over it and maintaining control. Users on unlimited plans are the last major group to be left out in the cold; they could access FaceTime over cellular briefly last year, but we wouldn't expect that to be coming back any time soon.
Nov 21, 2012
AT&T briefly extends FaceTime over cellular to unlimited data users before disabling it again (update)
Last week, AT&T slightly loosened its restrictions that previously required iPhone users to who wanted to use FaceTime over cellular networks to be on a Mobile Share data plan — the carrier said that iOS users with an LTE device and a tiered data plan would be able to use the feature. However, we have confirmed that some iPhone users with grandfathered unlimited data plans are also able to make FaceTime calls over cellular networks, corroborating earlier reports. Strangely enough, AT&T said earlier that FaceTime over cellular for users not on Mobile Share plans wouldn't be available for a few months, so it appears that the switch has been flipped earlier than planned — and that AT&T isn't enforcing its new restriction.Read Article >
AT&T hasn't made a public statement about this, and we've seen conflicting reports on various forum posts and on Twitter as to whether this works or not, so this doesn't appear to be a full rollout of FaceTime over cellular to all users. That said, it's worth a shot — we've found that you'll want to reboot your phone first before trying to make or receive any FaceTime calls. While this is certainly exciting for the users who now have access to FaceTime over AT&T's network, it's also another example of how AT&T's somewhat arbitrary requirements are making a confusing situation for its customers, who all should have access to the same services regardless of their data plan. We've reached out to AT&T for a comment and will update this post with anything else we learn.
Nov 8, 2012
Weeks after taking enormous heat from consumers, public interest groups, and the media (like us), AT&T is doing an about-face on its controversial decision to limit iOS 6's support for FaceTime over cellular to its new, pricier Mobile Share plans. That's great, but don't give AT&T an ounce of credit — the move is mysteriously taking eight to ten weeks to implement, and it's merely restoring functionality that should've been present from day one. It also would've never happened had organizations like Public Knowledge and Free Press not made it clear to AT&T that they'd pursue all legal avenues to get the block removed. "We got to a place that we think fixes the problem for AT&T's customers faster than would otherwise have happened, had we not indicated our willingness to file," Public Knowledge's John Bergmayer told us.Read Article >
More importantly, AT&T's sudden reversal exposes an enormous hole in the way that the FCC stewards the nation's airwaves. I mentioned in my January editorial — Unlimited data is dead, so let's fight a smarter fight — that spectrum belongs to the citizens; it's merely licensed to companies like AT&T, Verizon, and hundreds of others for the purpose of creating networks and services that are beneficial to the people living in it. That means that when a company purchases a license and doesn't use it to the fullest extent possible — when it arbitrarily restricts services, for instance — it's a violation of the spirit by which the spectrum was licensed in the first place. But in the course of normal business, the FCC doesn't regularly audit the utilization of this spectrum. We need to take private industry's word for it that it's using spectrum as efficiently as it can, that it's running out of spectrum, and that it's disabling access to services for a good reason.
Nov 8, 2012
AT&T just announced that it is easing some of the restrictions it placed on the iPhone's FaceTime feature — now, iOS 6 users with an LTE-capable device will be able to use FaceTime over cellular, as long as they're using a tiered data plan. Specifically, compatible devices include the iPhone 5 as well as the third- and fourth-generation iPad and the iPad mini. Unfortunately, it seems that those with grandfathered data plans are out of luck.Read Article >
Things haven't changed for all of the other iPhone users on AT&T's network — they'll still have to be on a mobile share plan to use FaceTime on a cellular network. Strangely enough, AT&T is saying that customers won't be able to use this feature for another eight to ten weeks, but there's no indication as to what's causing the delay.
Sep 25, 2012
FCC will review objections to AT&T's FaceTime blocking, 'exercise our responsibilities' if necessary
The FCC has yet to comment on AT&T's decision to limit FaceTime over cellular connections, but in remarks made today at Vox Media's offices in Washington, DC, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski suggested that the agency would review complaints about the service. Genachowski said that he couldn't comment specifically on AT&T at this time, but that if a good-faith effort to resolve the issue "doesn't lead to a resolution and a complaint is filed, we will exercise our responsibilities and we will act." But the FCC shouldn't be waiting long to receive a formal complaint: internet and net neutrality advocates responded swiftly to AT&T's actions, claiming that the FCC's Open Internet rules clearly prohibit arbitrarily limiting a service like FaceTime over specific networks. And recently, several of these groups notified AT&T of their intent to file a formal complaint with the FCC over FaceTime blocking — they say AT&T's actions harm its customers, especially for those with disabilities and families overseas.Read Article >
Sep 18, 2012Read Article >
Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute have announced plans to file a formal complaint with the FCC over AT&T's decision to block FaceTime for some customers. It's not a surprising move — Free Press, Public Knowledge, and other groups blasted AT&T over its new FaceTime policy last month, with Free Press claiming that the carrier's "decision to block FaceTime unless a customer pays for voice and text minutes she doesn't need is a clear violation of the FCC's Open Internet rules." The group filing the complaint argues that AT&T's actions harm all its customers, particularly for "the deaf" and "immigrant families and others with relatives overseas."
Sep 13, 2012
iPhone 5 users on Vodafone’s network in the UK may have to upgrade their service plan in order to use FaceTime over 3G, echoing a similar move by AT&T. According to Wired UK, Vodafone will require customers to have a VoIP add-on for their plan in order to use Apple's video calling service over a cellular network, a new feature in iOS 6. If customers don't already have VoIP support, they'll have to adopt a newer service plan or pay an additional fee to add VoIP to their existing plan. Any new customers to the carrier seeking the iPhone 5 won’t be affected, however, as the recently added Red data plans include VoIP and tethering by default. As for the other UK networks, O2, Orange, T-Mobile, and EE have all confirmed that FaceTime over 3G will work with existing data plans.Read Article >
Update: Vodafone has contacted us to clarify exactly who will need to upgrade. Any iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S customers on existing service plans costing more than £40 per month automatically receive the VoIP add-on. Customers under that threshold will have to pay £10 per month to receive VoIP access in addition to 2GB of extra data.
Sep 13, 2012
One of the long-awaited features in iOS 6 is the ability to make FaceTime calls over a cellular connection, and Verizon isn't planning to limit it in the slightest. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that iPhone users on Big Red will be able to use the feature no matter what flavor of data plan they may be using, for no additional charge. The position stands in stark contrast to that of rival AT&T, which sparked a still-ongoing controversy when it announced that its customers would only be able to use FaceTime over cellular if they switched to one of AT&T's new shared data plans. Sprint as well has also said that it has no plans to charge extra for the feature.Read Article >
FaceTime itself has been limited to Wi-Fi since its introduction, with even the new LTE-capable iPad unable to make FaceTime calls over that device's speedy connection. That all changes with iOS 6 — but of course, the newfound ability is dependent on carrier support.
Aug 22, 2012
AT&T posted a pointed justification of its decision to place restrictions on FaceTime over cellular earlier today, with the carrier's VP of regulatory affairs saying that people "rushed to judgement" on their possible violation of the FCC's Open Internet regulations — but internet groups have already responded critically to AT&T's predictable defense. John Bergmayer from internet advocacy group Public Knowledge says that "the FCC's Open Internet rules do not distinguish between pre-loaded and downloaded apps," and that "they prevent carriers from blocking certain kinds of apps — period."Read Article >
In its post today, AT&T cheekily points out that "customers will continue to be able to use Wi-Fi irrespective of the data plan they choose." Bergmayer says that AT&T "has no say over what features customers may use over Wi-Fi," and that "it is disingenuous of AT&T to point to the availability of FaceTime over Wi-Fi as some sort of benefit it provides to its customers." Additionally, he says "now that every other US iPhone carrier besides AT&T will be offering cellular FaceTime on a nondiscriminatory basis, it is reasonable to assume that AT&T's demands were holding it back for everyone." (To be fair, Verizon hasn't said what it's going to do, but its safe to assume they won't block it -- particularly in light of the 700MHz Block C open access provision). It's not clear if AT&T actually held FaceTime back from anyone, but in any event, Bergmayer says that "no carrier should be able to dictate to Apple or any other handset manufacturer what features they may include on their phones."
Aug 22, 2012
AT&T responds predictably to FaceTime controversy, says claims of FCC violations are 'another knee jerk reaction'
AT&T's outspoken senior vice president of regulatory affairs Bob Quinn is coming out with guns blazing on the outcry over the company's recently-announced restrictions on FaceTime over cellular, saying that interest group Public Knowledge and others have "rushed to judgment" on their possible infringement of the FCC's relatively mild Open Internet regulations that apply to mobile. In many ways, it's exactly the line we expected AT&T to take.Read Article >
Quinn's post, a seven-paragraph missive that seems to talk down to AT&T's detractors in places, notes that "customers will continue to be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi irrespective of the data plan they choose," as if to say that AT&T could or should have some sort of control over what mobile apps its customers use over broadband networks that it doesn't even manage. The more interesting language, though, is where Quinn attempts to argue why the move doesn't violate FCC rules:
Aug 21, 2012
AT&T's decision to only allow Mobile Share plan subscribers access to Apple's FaceTime over cellular has caused quite a ruckus amongst net neutrality advocates. Shortly after Public Knowledge issued a statement saying that the carrier is "violating the FCC's Open Internet Rules," Free Press has taken action and urges citizens to sign a petition directed at the Federal Communications Commission, which reads as follows:Read Article >
In its appeal, Free Press goes on to list why the policy hurts consumers, while also addressing the larget market implications, should the plans continue. The media advocacy group has previously testified in front of Congress on similar issues and even helped pen The Declaration of Internet Freedom.
Washington DC-based interest group Public Knowledge issued a brief press release this afternoon stating its displeasure with AT&T's decision to limit FaceTime over cellular — a new feature in iOS 6 — to subscribers choosing its new Mobile Share plans, arguing that the company is "violating the FCC's Open Internet rules." Here's the full statement from senior staff attorney John Bergmayer:Read Article >
As much as we'd all like for the FCC to take a comprehensive stand in favor of authentic, no-compromise net neutrality on wireless networks, the Open Internet rules that Public Knowledge is referring to are primarily geared toward landlines; in fact, the rule that the group is referring to is the only one that applies specifically to mobile. The Commission has been reluctant to take a hard line in wireless, where essentially all providers argue that there isn't enough bandwidth to treat traffic agnostically.
AT&T has cleared the air this afternoon on its policies for FaceTime over cellular, saying that a Mobile Share plan will be required to use it — but it won't incur an extra charge apart from normal data usage. The feature, which is new in iOS 6, had caused controversy several weeks ago when it was revealed that beta builds appeared to block the service on AT&T's network by default, suggesting that the carrier might be looking to buck the tenets of net neutrality by tacking on an extra charge to enable it.Read Article >
That's not to say the move isn't exceptionally hostile to net neutrality, whose principles mostly aren't enforced by law (and are showing no signs of impending enforcement) on the country's cellular networks. The move is sure to upset some iPhone users who had no intention of moving to a Mobile Share plan — which, in some cases, can be more expensive than the company's existing individual plans — and can only be described as a completely arbitrary distinction that artificially limits the capabilities of the data buckets that non-Mobile Share users have. It's easy to speculate that AT&T is looking to limit additional network saturation by limiting which customers can use the feature, but then again, that's the function that the limited data buckets themselves serve.
Jul 17, 2012
Apple's FaceTime video chat service may have been Wi-Fi-only since its inception, but that means it's also been free all along. This could change come the launch of iOS 6, however — the introduction of FaceTime calling over 3G could well be accompanied by charges for the first time. 9to5Mac has acquired screenshots from the recently-released iOS 6 beta 3 that seem to show FaceTime over cellular networks requiring activation (read: a contract bolt-on) in a similar way to the Personal Hotspot feature. Attempting to use 3G calling on an iPhone reportedly brings up an error message imploring the user to contact AT&T to have the feature enabled, though 9to5Mac's iPad worked without running into the issue.Read Article >
If true, this would raise all sorts of questions as to how AT&T plans to handle its customers' data allowances. A flat rate for unlimited FaceTime calling could undoubtedly result in some hefty packet consumption, and the real question then would be if FaceTime data counts towards users' bandwidth caps. If so, people might find themselves needing a higher data plan on top of the extra FaceTime charges, but if not it'd raise the issue of AT&T's adherence to net neutrality principles — Comcast has come under fire recently for letting its customers use the Xfinity video service without it counting towards their download limits. Were AT&T to implement a similar policy, it could have far-reaching implications for Skype and other services with customers that currently have to deal with managing their data.