Earlier this week, a report surfaced that AT&T intends to charge wireless customers an extra fee for using FaceTime video chat.
AT&T hasn't yet confirmed the report, but hasn't denied it either. Instead, when asked about the company's intentions, CEO Randall Stephenson replied, "It’s too early to talk about pricing.”
If AT&T does decide to charge an extra fee for FaceTime, the telecom will be launching a direct attack on the Federal Communications Commission's neutrality rules -- at least according to digital rights groups Free Press and Public Knowledge.
Those rules, which went into effect late last year, prohibit wireless broadband providers from blocking competing apps. Preventing customers from using an app unless they pay extra is equivalent to blocking that app, contends Free Press policy director Matt Wood. "If AT&T wants to charge you for the privilege of using that app, we would argue they are blocking you," he tells MediaPost.
Public Knowledge senior vice president Harold Feld added in a statement that the purpose of the neutrality rules is "to keep companies like AT&T from charging twice for the same data service."
Even so, there's no guarantee that those rules will hold up in court. Verizon and MetroPCS recently filed papers asking the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to vacate the neutrality order. They argue that precedent is on their side, given that the appellate court already ruled in a case involving Comcast that the FCC lacks authority to regulate broadband. In that matter, the court vacated an order sanctioning Comcast for throttling peer-to-peer traffic.