AT&T tweaks FaceTime over cellular policies - Top Turkeys 2012


In July, rumors surfaced that AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) might charge customers for using Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) FaceTime video calling feature over cellular connections on iOS 6 devices. Days after the rumors first popped up, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said it was too soon to say whether the carrier would do so. FaceTime over cellular is enabled on Apple devices running iOS 6 software. Prior to iOS 6, FaceTime was only available on Wi-Fi.

Then in mid-August AT&T announced its policy on the issue: It would not charge customers for using FaceTime over cellular, but only if they were on the carrier's Mobile Share shared data plans. Customers not on Mobile Share would not be able to use FaceTime over cellular (but would be able to use the service over Wi-Fi).

AT&T's stance drew a sharp rebuke from public interest groups Free Press, Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, which said AT&T was violating net neutrality rules by essentially discriminating against certain kinds of customers. The groups said they were considering filing a formal complaint with the FCC over the move. AT&T defended its decision, arguing it had been transparent in its actions and that it was not blocking any service.

Then, in late November, AT&T reversed itself slightly, and said it would offer FaceTime over cellular at no extra charge to customers using LTE devices.

In a company blog post, Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, wrote that AT&T decided to only offer FaceTime over cellular to Mobile Share customers because it has the most iPhones of any carrier and was uncertain about the impact on its network from the newly available service. AT&T's decision raised the hackles of consumers, public interest groups and the media. And, as The Verge noted afterward, the episode demonstrated that wireless carriers have much more leeway with the FCC's net neutrality rules than wired ones do.