WASHINGTON – Late Friday, reports confirmed AT&T's plans to restrict the use of Apple's popular FaceTime video chat application on new iPhones due this fall. With the current crop of iPhones, users can access this app only when they are connected to a Wi-Fi network. However, FaceTime will work on mobile networks with iPhones running iOS6, the next generation of Apple’s mobile device operating system.
Speculation last month suggested that AT&T might charge its customers an additional fee to use FaceTime on mobile networks. Friday's reports confirmed that instead of charging a separate fee, AT&T will allow mobile FaceTime use only by customers on the carrier's new "Mobile Share" service plans.
If carried out, AT&T's plan to block mobile access to FaceTime for all other customers would violate the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet rules. Those rules provide weaker protections for wireless Internet access than for wired services like DSL and cable broadband offerings, but they do prohibit wireless carriers from blocking applications like FaceTime that compete with cellphone carriers' own voice services.
Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood made the following statement:
"These tactics are designed with one goal in mind: separating customers from more of their money each month by handicapping alternatives to AT&T's own products. If customers want to use FaceTime on AT&T's mobile network, then they have buy a more expensive monthly data plan with extra voice minutes and texts they'll never use thrown in. Blocking mobile FaceTime access for much of its user base may be a win for AT&T but it's a losing proposition for the rest of us.
"It's not supposed to be this way. The Net Neutrality protections in place today for wireless are too weak, but at least prevent carriers from blocking these types of apps. The FCC's rules prohibit such blatantly anti-competitive conduct by wireless companies. Such behavior would be a problem no matter what Internet platform you choose. It would be unimaginable on your home broadband connection. Apple's FaceTime comes pre-installed on a Macbook Pro, too, but no home broadband provider would dream of blocking the app there unless you'd signed up for a more expensive data plan.
"The FCC's Open Internet order aside, AT&T's latest scheme to make you pay more for less would never fly if we had real competition in the wireless marketplace. Instead, we have Ma Bell's twin offspring running amok and forcing consumers onto ridiculous plans that make them pay for the same data twice. It's only going to get worse until lawmakers recognize the problem and act to solve this competition crisis."