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AT&T staves off net neutrality complaint by giving another inch, but it's not fooling anyone

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Advocacy groups maintain tough language, threaten FCC complaint

Gallery Photo: Samsung Galaxy Note for AT&T hands-on photos
Gallery Photo: Samsung Galaxy Note for AT&T hands-on photos

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.

AT&T was reluctant to commit even to vague terms that would roll out FaceTime to everyone

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."

Free Press, a group that previously threatened a formal FCC complaint against AT&T along with Public Knowledge and others, is still on the war path. In its own statement released today, Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood writes that "until AT&T makes FaceTime available to all of its customers, it is still in violation of the law and the broader principles of net neutrality. We remain ready to bring our complaint unless AT&T finishes the job and stops blocking this application altogether."

Since the controversy over AT&T's restriction of FaceTime on cellular began, the company has maintained that it's basically done nothing wrong. In an initial response to claims from interest groups over net neutrality violations, AT&T boasted that "customers will continue to be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi irrespective of the data plan they choose," missing the point of the complaint entirely.