AT&T Mobility blasts ‘knee-jerk reaction’ to FaceTime Over Cellular plans

The following is an open letter posted to the official AT&T Public Policy Blog by Bob Quinn, AT&T’s Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory and Chief Privacy Office, verbatim:

Last week, we confirmed plans to make FaceTime available over our mobile broadband network for our AT&T Mobile Share data plan customers.

FaceTime is a video chat application that has been pre-loaded onto every AT&T iPhone since the introduction of iPhone 4. Customers have been using this popular app for several years over Wi-Fi. AT&T does not have a similar preloaded video chat app that competes with FaceTime or any other preloaded video chat application. Nonetheless, in another knee jerk reaction, some groups have rushed to judgment and claimed that AT&T’s plans will violate the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Those arguments are wrong.

Providers of mobile broadband Internet access service are subject to two net neutrality requirements: (1) a transparency requirement pursuant to which they must disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband Internet access services; and (2) a no-blocking requirement under which they are prohibited, subject to reasonable network management, from blocking applications 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.

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. Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps. Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services. AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems. (I won’t name any of them for fear that I will be accused by these same groups of discriminating in favor of those apps. But just go to your app store on your device and type “video chat.”) Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation.

Although the rules don’t require it, some preloaded apps are available without charge on phones sold by AT&T, including FaceTime, but subject to some reasonable restrictions. To date, all of the preloaded video chat applications on the phones we sell, including FaceTime, have been limited to Wi-Fi. 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. To be clear, customers will continue to be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi irrespective of the data plan they choose. We are broadening our customers’ ability to use the preloaded version of FaceTime but limiting it in this manner to our newly developed AT&T Mobile Share data plans out of an overriding concern for the impact this expansion may have on our network and the overall customer experience.

We will be monitoring the impact the upgrade to this popular preloaded app has on our mobile broadband network, and customers, too, will be in a learning mode as to exactly how much data FaceTime consumes on those usage-based plans. We always strive to provide our customers with the services they desire and will incorporate our learnings from the roll-out of FaceTime on our mobile broadband network into our future service offerings.

Source: AT&T Public Policy Blog

48 Comments

    1. I would suggest Straight Talk if your iPhone is not under contract. They charge $45/mo for unlimited talk/text/data and use AT&T towers. I get the same signal strength as I did with AT&T. I suspect they throttle data after 2 or 3 GB…. just as AT&T does.

  1. AT&T is garbage, but so are all the other wireless carriers in the US. They all overcharge, under serve, and have mediocre customer service. Verizon’s service is far worse, with their network only marginally better in some areas. But worse in others. Sprint would be great, but they just aren’t, they have the most competitive plans but the weakest overall network, and their customer service is mediocre at best.

  2. The solution seems quite clear – Apple should turn FaceTime into an App that is downloaded AFTER the user activates the iPhone on AT&T’s network. Effectively giving the App the same “free” access to data (irrespective of data plan) as Skype, Tango, etc. It wouldn’t even need to be a separate App. In the same way that existing Apps can have “in-app” additional downloads, the Phone app could be “enhanced” with a FaceTime addition AFTER the phone was activated.

    1. Agreed. The AT&T blog post was curiously clear about all of that, as well as opening the door (trial balloon?) for removing the restriction in the future. I wonder if they aren’t leaning that way already and trying for a face-saving way to back pedal; the notion that Mobile Share users give them a different perspective than if they opened it to all customers rings hollow to me.

      1. What do you do with a corporate account? The proposed AT&T solution with Mobile Share is fundamentally flawed. And why would they be so comfortable with Skype over cellular and not Facetime over cellular? The explanation seems more than contrived.

        1. They want to charge extra for FaceTime because they think they can. Remember, this is the company that charged an extra $1 per month for TouchTone dialing from land lines well into the ’80s.

  3. I am grandfathered into the old unlimited plan because I have had the iPhone since it came out. My family who have not had the iPhones as long are all on Verizon. I have yet to see a reason to join them on the Verizon plan, even though the phone calls on their Verizon never seem to get drop. But their data speeds (where we live) are no match for AT&T’s. I am ready for an upgrade when the new phone comes out and I’m really, really looking hard into switching. They (AT&T) need to know that there was always a reason to stay but if they take that advantage away or take services away, they have to know I and many others will switch. The advantage will no longer be on their side with both offering good LTE coverage and compartible speeds. The advantage will be better call coverage and a cost savings buy having all 4 phones on the same plan.
    Advantage lost. Anyone stuggling with similiar decisions?

    1. 1
      But not so much a struggle as await and see situation. The Skype comparison seems logical, but looking back there were lots of functions previously available before that didn’t take off until iPhone or Apple versions. So maybe AT&T is wise to proceed cautiously (not to take anything away from their history of greedily poor customer service).

  4. I HATE AT&T. And yet, here I am, still their customer. Unfortunately, all the major US carriers suck in some way. AT&T and Verizon are just better at sucking than Sprint and T-Mobile.

    Sigh…

            1. You said it, Joe! I liken both political parties (Democrats & Republicans) to a coin with two heads. Doesn’t matter who you vote for – they are all the same.

        1. It will take a powerful grassroots effort for a third party to have a chance. Such a candidate will not gain the support of the establishment because he/she would not be beholden to them. But the people can make a difference.

  5. AT&T needs to rethink their policy on this..
    Verizon got sued (and lost) for doing similar with Bluetooth when it came out.

    The phone was capable of bluetooth, Verizon locked it and charged customers to unlock it for use… Same as AT&T is going to do. And the NN stuff.. AT&T may lose a lawsuit quickly.

    I hate what AT&T is doing, but Verizon is no better for me. Granted Verizon does have LTE here.. But I’d lose unlimited data. And I do go places with no Verizon coverage at all.. It’s one of the reasons I went AT&T to begin with.

    AT&T better change this. There will be a ton of pissed off iPhone customers of they don’t.

    Hey Verizon… Offer AT&T customers unlimited data plans for AT&T customers with current unlimited data. Verizon will get a TON of takers.

  6. There is nothing they can offer me to compel me to leave my unlimited plan. The only thing I might consider is a straight up charge of $0.50 per 100 MB with a 6 Mbps guaranteed level of service when in an area served by 4G LTE.

  7. As soon as Verizon goes LTE with the next iPhone I am dropping AT&T. I’m tired of their nickel and dime tactics. They treat bandwidth like its something they have to continually mine for.

  8. AT&T is obviously just trying to find ways to get people out of their grandfathered unlimited plans. There can be no other reason to do it this way. They could care less about their customers . . . I mean REALLY they do not care . . . just call with any sort of problem and you find that out quickly.

    1. There could be. Maybe. Consider this: Who are you most likely to FaceTime with? Let’s roll with “family and friends” right now and focus on “family” — If you and your family members are on unlimited data plans, you could FaceTime all you want and there’d be no restriction, consuming lots of bandwidth that AT&T hadn’t been banking on. If you are on a shared family plan, the two of are consuming your allotment at double speed. I don’t know how that’s represented on their analysis spreadsheets, but I bet it’s at the heart of their discussions. Meanwhile, out here we’re all arguing “I pay for x amount of data, let me use it as I see fit.” Except that I bet most people don’t use all the data they pay for, and FaceTime could radically change that.

  9. Is this new AT&T Mobile Share policy concerning FaceTime applicable only to FT or does it also apply to video chat apps for other phones?

    This statement doesn’t address this.

    It it’s FaceTime only, then there is a problem.

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