AT&T's femtocell policy raises net neutrality concerns, group warns

Interest group Public Knowledge is rallying against AT&T Mobility's (NYSE:T) femtocell terms of service, arguing the carrier's approach to tallying users' data consumption runs against the FCC's net neutrality provisions.

"AT&T has decided that the data from AT&T wireless microcells will not count against the data caps on AT&T DSL or U-verse home broadband connections," wrote Michael Weinberg in a Public Knowledge blog post. "This sets AT&T microcell data apart from every other type of data on those connections, including data from a Verizon or Sprint microcell. The message to AT&T DSL and U-verse consumers is clear: if your cell signal is weak and you are worried about your data cap, better get a phone from AT&T Wireless. Simply put, this is an abuse of data caps."

AT&T for years has offered a femtocell to customers who can't connect to the carrier's wireless network. AT&T's device, branded MicroCell, is essentially a mini base station that creates a tiny bubble of wireless service. Traffic from the device is routed through a user's wired Internet connection.

In his argument, Weinberg said that AT&T's approach toward its femtocell billing is the second major example of a large carrier prioritizing its own Internet traffic over other types of traffic. Comcast last year came under fire for removing its Xfinity video service from its data cap in some situations. The FCC is still reviewing that situation. Comcast, for its part, has denied its strategy runs afoul of net neutrality.

In a related situation, AT&T last year was criticized for expanding Apple's FaceTime video calling service only to subscribers of its Mobile Share shared data plans.

The FCC in 2010 passed net neutrality guidelines that essentially require telecom companies to treat all Internet communications in the same way. The guidelines have been challenged in court by various telecom companies, including Verizon, but have largely been upheld.

An AT&T Mobility representative did not immediately respond to questions about Public Knowledge's post.

For more:
- see this Public Knowledge post
- see this AT&T support page

Related Articles:
AT&T expands access to FaceTime over cellular - but not to all customers
AT&T's FaceTime policy triggers formal complaint
Maybe AT&T could monetize FaceTime
AT&T faces net neutrality complaint over FaceTime plans