Commentary

AT&T FaceTime Defense: Neutrality Rules Don't Apply To 'Preloaded' Apps

AT&T is defending its controversial decision to prohibit 3G customers on older data plans from using the FaceTime video chat iPhone app on the mobile network.

Consumer advocates say that AT&T's plans -- which the company confirmed late last week -- will violate neutrality rules prohibiting wireless providers from blocking apps that compete with their own services.

Now, in a blog post issued this morning, AT&T senior vice president Bob Quinn says that the company is limiting FaceTime "out of an overriding concern" about the app's impact "on our network and the overall customer experience."

Quinn also disagrees that the company is violating neutrality rules -- though his reasoning on that point has left many people puzzled. Quinn argues that the net neutrality rules don't regulate "preloaded" apps, only ones that are downloaded. "AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any ... lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores," he writes. "Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation."

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Advocacy groups say Quinn couldn't be more wrong. "The FCC's Open Internet rules do not distinguish between pre-loaded and downloaded apps. They prevent carriers from blocking certain kinds of apps--period," Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer says in a statement. "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."

Free Press research director S. Derek Turner adds that  AT&T "is trying to invent a loophole in the rules," by distinguishing between pre-loaded and downloaded apps. He also questions why users' data plans would have any effect on the app's impact on the network. "AT&T’s assertion -- that FaceTime is allowed on mobile share plans because the app is data-intensive and those plans are designed to make more data available --- is ludicrous and contradicted by the facts. If that were true, why should current non-mobile share customers that purchase 3GB of data be blocked from using mobile FaceTime, while customers who purchase the 1GB shared data tier are not blocked?”

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