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AT&T’s FaceTime policy could get it slapped with an FCC fine

AT&T’s (T) decision to limit FaceTime over its cellular network to shared data plan subscribers hasn’t been very popular with many iPhone users, but a new report from GigaOM suggests that government regulators might not like it very much either. According to GigaOM, several open-Internet advocacy groups have told AT&T that they intend to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission alleging that the carrier’s FaceTime policies violate the network neutrality restrictions passed by the FCC back in 2010.

Matt Wood, the policy director of the Free Press, said that his group was taking part in the complaint because “AT&T’s decision to block FaceTime unless a customer pays for voice and text minutes she doesn’t need is a clear violation of the FCC’s Open Internet rules” while adding that “it’s particularly outrageous that AT&T is requiring this for iPad users, given that this device isn’t even capable of making voice calls.”

But while many AT&T subscribers may cheer Wood’s sentiment, the FCC’s wireless net neutrality rules are so loose that it’s not clear that AT&T violated them at all. The real question is whether or not AT&T is giving different treatment to any of its own video calling apps over its cellular network, as the FCC’s guidelines forbid carriers from blocking applications that compete directly with the their own voice or video telephony services.

AT&T, for its part, has defended its actions by saying that the net neutrality restrictions don’t apply to video chat apps that come preloaded onto phones and only count for third-party apps that users download from app stores.

Prior to joining BGR as News Editor, Brad Reed spent five years covering the wireless industry for Network World. His first smartphone was a BlackBerry but he has since become a loyal Android user.