AT&T has faced a firestorm of criticism after they announced they would be limiting access to FaceTime over Cellular to holders of their new shared plans. A lawyer for Public Knowledge responded by stating that this might actually be against FCC rules.
Despite the intense backlash from consumers and the press, AT&T has issued a response defending their decision, stating that because FaceTime is built into the iPhone, rather than an app downloaded by the user, they can disable it if they feel like it, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
In a prepared statement, AT&T’s Bob Quinn states:
The FCC’s net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones. Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps. Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services. AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lwful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems. (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.”) Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation.
That’s a lot of mumbo jumbo, so allow me to translate this into words that are easier to understand: We can get away with screwing our customers, and that makes it OK. AT&T can probably block FaceTime for most of their customers without having to face off against the FCC.
If FaceTime was a downloadable app, AT&T couldn’t block it. But somehow they are able to because it’s built into the phone? That’s quite a technicality. It’s bad enough that a loophole like that even exists – but it’s far worse that AT&T has decided to use such a nonsensical loophole just to bully their customers into signing up for their latest plans.
Of course, AT&T contends that this isn’t about bullying customers, but rather about defending their network to make sure it works best for everybody. This, despite the fact that it doen’t add up that FaceTime would significantly impact their networks, since users are already entitled to the data they are paying for, and all AT&T data plans (even their “unlimited” plan) already have caps.
We are broadening our customers’ ability to use the preloaded version of FaceTime but limiting it in this manner to our newly developed AT&T Mobile Share data plans out of an overriding concern for the impact this expansion may have on our network and the overall customer experience.
It’s not about whether or not AT&T can legally get away with this. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about the impact it will have on customers. It’s about not violating consumer trust.
Add this to the ever-increasing list of foolish and anti-consumer moves made by AT&T. Fail. I guess it’s time to vote with our wallets.