AT&T slammed over FaceTime block

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Three consumer groups have warned AT&T that they will make a formal complaint to the FCC over the company's plans to block Apple's FaceTime.

AT&T plans to block the videoconferencing app, which works over cellular networks, for customers that don't subscribe to its premium Mobile Shared plans.

Public Knowledge,  Free Press and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute say the move's a violation of the FCC's Open Internet rules.

"AT&T's subscribers shouldn't have to pay AT&T to use applications developed by Apple or any other developer. Subscribers pay for their data connections, and that's enough," says John Bergmayer, senior staff attorney at Public Knowledge.

"AT&T is trying to engage in exactly the kind of 'double-dipping' that the Open Internet rules were mean to prohibit, to get people to buy voice minutes and text plans they don't need, and to discourage people from using apps it doesn't approve of."

AT&T has defended the move - some might say rather arrogantly.

"The FCC’s net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones," Bob Quinn, who leads the company's Federal Regulatory group, said last month. "Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps."

Customers are welcome to use FaceTime over Wifi, he says, or a competing product.

This attitude, though, gets short shrift from Bergmayer.

"AT&T has no say over what features customers may use over Wifi, unlicensed spectrum that is free for the public to use without the permission any carrier," he says.

"Thus it is disingenuous of AT&T to point to the availability of FaceTime over Wifi as some sort of benefit it provides its customers."

The groups have written to AT&T's general counsel Wayne Watts, warning that unless the company reverses the policy, they will file a formal complaint in ten days' time.