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August 31, 2012

AT&T Restriction on FaceTime may Violate FCC Open Internet Rules

By Jacqueline Lee, Contributing Writer

AT&T recently announced that only customers subscribing to its “Mobile Share” data plans can utilize FaceTime (News - Alert), an iOS video chat application, over their cellular connections.

Currently, FaceTime only works over Wi-Fi, but Apple recently confirmed that the iOS 6 version of the app will work over cellular connections. Some executives have expressed alarm over the congestion that FaceTime could bring to already overloaded networks.

“If I were a carrier, I'd be rather frightened by FaceTime," Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, told ComputerWorld. "If everybody used FaceTime, bandwidth would go up dramatically, and the user experience would go down.”

Image via Shutterstock

Apple has not confirmed whether its latest iPhone will be equipped with LTE (News - Alert) capability, although most experts agree that it will. LTE, not 3G, is needed to support a quality user experience on FaceTime that prevents both latency and frozen frames.

Concern for network speed probably prompted AT&T to release its restrictive FaceTime policy, but public interest groups aren’t happy about the edict.

“By blocking FaceTime for many of its customers, AT&T is violating the FCC's (News - Alert) Open Internet rules,” charged John Bergmayer, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge. “These rules state that mobile providers shall not ‘block applications that compete with the provider's voice or video telephony services.’

“Although carriers are permitted to engage in ‘reasonable network management,’ there is no technical reason why one data plan should be able to access FaceTime, and another not.”

In addition, some have expressed concern that restricting FaceTime may also indicate a preference for other apps such as Google Talk or Skype (News - Alert), a charge that AT&T denies.

“AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems,” wrote Bob Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president of federal regulatory. “(I won’t name any of them for fear that I will be accused by these same groups of discriminating in favor of those apps. But just go to your app store on your device and type “video chat.)”

“It is interesting to see AT&T try this line of defense, as it is tacitly admitting that it is both blocking FaceTime and that the app does in fact compete with its own offerings,” countered Free Press Research director, S. Derek Turner.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2012, taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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