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Free Press: AT&T “Invented” Distinctions in FCC Rules to Justify FaceTime Blocking

Free Press: AT&T “Invented” Distinctions in FCC Rules to Justify FaceTime Blocking

Yesterday, AT&T released a statement justifying blocking access to FaceTime for anyone not using their new shared data plans. The basis of there argument was that that they aren’t violating FCC rules, citing a distinction between pre-loaded versus downloaded apps. But according to consumer right groups, that distinction doesn’t actually exist.

According to S. Derek. Turner, research director for Free Press, AT&T is simply manufacturing rules and distinctions that aren’t mentioned anywhere in the FCC’s net neutrality rules. WIRED reports:

“AT&T is inventing words that are not in the FCC’s rules in a weak attempt to justify its blocking of FaceTime,” said S. Derek Turner, research director for Free Press. “The FCC’s rules are crystal clear: AT&T is not permitted to block voice or video telephony applications that compete with its own services. There is simply nothing in the rules that distinguishes ‘preloaded’ applications from ‘downloaded’ applications.”

John Bergmayer, a staff attorney with Public Knowledge, said FCC rules “prevent carriers from blocking certain kinds of apps — period. AT&T is blocking FaceTime for all of its iPhone customers who do not subscribe to its premium ‘Mobile Shared’ plans, and this runs afoul of the rules.”

The regulations do allow for certain kinds of mobile network management during periods of congestion, but these cannot unfairly target services that compete with the carriers’ own services.

In a separate post, WIRED continues, providing a link to the full set of rules adopted by the FCC, as well as a 200-page order that explains the reasoning behind the rules:

…the rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission to prevent carriers from blocking access to applications and websites over mobile connections are crystal clear: Mobile broadband providers cannot “block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.”

Nowhere in the rules will you find a mention of the term “preloaded.” And nor will you find it in the rest of the FCC’s nearly 200-page official orderthat accompanied and explained the agency’s rationale for adopting these rules. This is simply a distinction that AT&T is inventing, hoping that the FCC lets it poke another loophole in the already weak wireless Net Neutrality protections.

AT&T’s statement was an insulting anti-consumer position even if AT&T had been completely truthful about the FCC’s rules, and had indeed found a loophole. If those statements were false, it’s even worse and more insulting.

So, did AT&T just flat out lie to their customers, while insulting them at the same time? According to Free Press (and the FCC’s own documentation), the answer is probably yes. Yet another reason to join the call to arms against AT&T, and show them that they can’t get away with screwing their customers.

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