It's not a violation of the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules to offer FaceTime only to cellular customers on shared data plans. At least that's AT&T's argument. But opponents have a different view.
AT&T last week confirmed plans to make FaceTime available over its mobile broadband network for its AT&T Mobile Share data plan customers. Customers have historically used the video chat application over Wi-Fi but the next version of the iPhone operating system, due this fall, offers mobile broadband capabilities.
Groups like Public Knowledge are coming together against AT&T's moves in light of the mobile OS updates. John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge, insisted that by blocking FaceTime for many of its customers, AT&T is violating the FCC's Open Internet rules.
"These rules state that mobile providers shall not 'block applications that compete with the provider's voice or video telephony services,' " Bergmayer said. "Although carriers are permitted to engage in 'reasonable network management,' there is no technical reason why one data plan should be able to access FaceTime and another not."
AT&T's Bob Quinn said calling the move a violation is "another knee-jerk reaction" and said "those arguments are wrong." He said providers of mobile broadband Internet access are subject to two net neutrality requirements: transparency and not blocking apps that compete with the provider's voice or video telephony services.
"AT&T's plans for FaceTime will not violate either requirement. Our policies regarding FaceTime will be fully transparent to all consumers, and no one has argued to the contrary. There is no transparency issue here," Quinn said. "Nor is there a blocking issue. The FCC's net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones."
But Bergmayer says FCC rules do not distinguish between pre-loaded and downloaded apps. They prevent carriers from blocking certain kinds of apps -- period.
"AT&T is blocking FaceTime for all of its iPhone customers who do not subscribe to its premium 'Mobile Shared' plans, and this runs afoul of the rules," Bergmayer argued. "No carrier should be able to dictate to Apple or any other handset manufacturer what features they may include on their phones."
Can't We All Just Get Along?
Telecom analyst Jeff Kagan has been following the net neutrality battle for years, with all its twists and turns. He told us he can see both sides of the issue.
"The Internet started out being just a service that everybody used because it was fun. Now it's becoming a service people use because they need it for their personal and business lives. Some get telephone over the Internet. Some get television over the Internet," Kagan said.
"That threatens the phone and cable television companies that don't want to give away the networks they built out. They want to control what the customer can do over their network. It makes total sense that they are against it.
"But Yahoo and Google want the customer to be able to do whatever they want. That makes sense too. We need to decide as a nation how we want to move forward and put an end to this debate."
Posted: 2012-09-02 @ 5:37pm PT
Just people trying to make money off every little thing.