Watchdog Criticizes AT&T's Mobile App Plan

by , Feb 27, 2012, 6:40 PM
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Advocacy group Public Knowledge is panning a new plan by AT&T to allow app developers to purchase a service it describes as a toll-free number for mobile broadband.

The telecom reportedly said on Monday that it will roll out a feature that will allow mobile app developers to pay for the data subscribers use. When app developers purchase that service, data transmitted by their apps won't count toward subscribers' monthly limits.

But Public Knowledge says the plan will disadvantage developers that can't afford to pay for consumers' data. "Right now, the system works the same for every application," says Public Knowledge's legal director, Harold Feld. By contrast, he says, the new plan will necessarily favor big companies at the expense of startups. "People who are trying to compete with Facebook, and operating on a shoestring, will not be able to pay."

AT&T subscribers who joined in 2010 and later are required to sign up for tiered plans, where they pay fees based on how much data they consume. Longtime users who originally signed up for unlimited plans can keep them, but face throttling if they are classified as "bandwidth hogs" -- meaning they consume more data than 95% of other users.

Public Knowledge says that AT&T's plan demonstrates why the Federal Communications Commission should investigate telecoms' decisions to impose data caps, as well as the 2010 shift toward tiered mobile broadband pricing.

The group also stated that the new proposal “is exactly the type of market manipulation we hoped the FCC’s Open Internet rules would prevent."

Current Net neutrality rules prohibit wireless companies from discriminating against some types of competing apps, like Skype. But the rules appear to give wireless companies more flexibility in dealing with app developers that don't offer competing services.

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