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Background: AT&T has announced it would allow users to access FaceTime, Apple's popular real-time video and voice communications application, over its cellular network with "no additional charge for customers with any tiered data plan using a compatible iOS service." Previously, AT&T had allowed only its "Mobile Share" plan subscribers, then 4G phone users, to access the application on its network.
This change comes after Public Knowledge, Free Press, and the Open Technology Institute of New America Foundation threatened to file a formal complaint against the company unless it stopped blocking FaceTime for all its wireless subscribers.
The following statement can be attributed to John Bergmayer, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge:
"A customer who buys a connection from AT&T should be able to use it to access any website, run any application, or communicate with anyone. When consumers buy Internet access they don't expect their ISP to pick and choose how they can use it.
"By limiting its blockade of Apple's FaceTime application, AT&T now allows most of its customers to use their iPhones as they were designed. It is good that AT&T is reducing this unnecessary and possibly illegal restriction. Unfortunately, it appears this new policy only applies to "tiered" plans--customers with unlimited data plans are still blocked from accessing FaceTime over their cellular connections.
"Last year, Public Knowledge worked with AT&T to get it to stop blocking FaceTime, and the situation today is better than it would have been had we not threatened to file a formal complaint with the FCC. However, because it is still blocking FaceTime for some users, AT&T is still violating the Open Internet rules.
"Even though unlimited plans are no longer available for new customers, AT&T sets itself apart from some of its competitors by allowing its customers who upgrade their phones to keep those plans. However, this does not grant it license to unlawfully prevent those customers from using certain applications--especially given that AT&T's own testing seems to have shown that FaceTime does not have a significant network impact.
"Until communications markets are truly competitive, users need to closely monitor carriers to prevent consumer-unfriendly actions. As AT&T's continued partial blocking of FaceTime, and recent revelations about its exemption of its own traffic from wired data caps shows, the temptation and means to violate net neutrality and try to pick and choose online winners and losers is always present."