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AT&T faces net neutrality complaint over FaceTime plans

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Public interest groups Free Press, Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute said they will file a formal complaint against AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) for violating the FCC's net neutrality rules. The groups argue that AT&T's decision to offer Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) FaceTime video calling feature over cellular at no extra charge only to its Mobile Share data plan customers contravenes the FCC's Open Internet rules.

AT&T's disclosure in August about its plans for FaceTime over cellular, which will be allowed on iOS 6 software, caused a furor over whether such a strategy runs counter to net neutrality. Prior to iOS 6, FaceTime was only available on Wi-Fi--and it will remain free on Wi-Fi, AT&T has said.

"We respectfully request that AT&T reconsider its behavior and the impact that blocking FaceTime will have on its customers, particularly the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as all who use this application to communicate with family and friends over the Internet," the groups said in a letter to AT&T. "Making mobile use of the application available only to those customers who pay for unlimited voice and text messages harms individuals and innovation alike. We ask instead that AT&T make this core feature of the popular iPhone and iPad devices available to all of its customers, in compliance with the Open Internet rules that 'preserve the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission.'"

The complaint is expected to be filed within 10 days. An AT&T spokesman did not immediately have a comment. However, AT&T defended its actions last month. In a company blog post, Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president of federal regulatory, noted that wireless carriers are subject to transparency and no-blocking rules via net neutrality. He said AT&T has been transparent in its actions and said there is not a blocking issue either.

Quinn made a distinction between apps like FaceTime that are pre-loaded on devices and apps that customers download from application storefronts, and said AT&T is not blocking users from downloading apps like FaceTime. Quinn also noted that AT&T is limiting who can use FaceTime over cellular to protect its network. However, AT&T's usage-based data plans--separate from AT&T's Mobile Share plans--were designed to inhibit high data usage.

Under the FCC's rules, wireless carriers are barred from blocking services such as Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings, as well as those in which they have an attributable interest. However, wireless carriers do not face the same restrictions wired operators will on blocking Web traffic and other applications--a ban on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic. Wireless carriers also face transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" rule on lawful content and applications.

For more:
- see this release
- see this letter (PDF)
- see this WaPo article

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