AT&T today loosened its restrictions on FaceTime by saying it will allow iPhone users with tiered data plans to use the video chat app over the data network. But advocacy groups say that AT&T needs to go further and make FaceTime available on its data network to all users -- including those who are grandfathered into unlimited data plans.
Still, AT&T's latest decision regarding FaceTime is at least better than the telecom's original stance. Last September, the company said that it would only allow users with "shared" data plans to access FaceTime on the data networks. That move was seen as thwarting people on older, tiered plans who wanted to use FaceTime for voice calls. Those people typically pay for calls by purchasing a block of minutes (such as $40 a month for 450 minutes), and also pays separate charges for the broadband data they consume (such as $30 a month for 3 GB of data). Telephone calls made through apps aren't counted against subscribers' minutes, so some consumers could save money by staying with an older plan and using FaceTime to make phone calls.
The advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge said at the time that AT&T's plan to prevent some subscribers from accessing FaceTime would violate neutrality rules by limiting their ability to use competing voice apps.
In November, AT&T backtracked somewhat by announcing that users with tiered plans and LTE devices could access FaceTime on the data network. But today's statement goes even further by allowing 3G users -- including people with the iPhone 4s -- who also have tiered data plans to use the service.
Nonetheless, advocacy groups say that AT&T is continuing to violate neutrality rules by excluding users with unlimited data plans. That group can use FaceTime, but only on the relatively spotty WiFi networks.
Free Press said this afternoon that it still intends to pursue the matter. "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," Free Press policy director Matt Wood said in a statement. "We remain ready to bring our complaint unless AT&T finishes the job and stops blocking this application altogether."