Wednesday, August 22, 2012

AT&T claims no net neutraiity violation in its FaceTime over cellular policy

Folks should have been expecting this, since it was revealed in iOS 6 beta 3 that AT&T was ready to monetize FaceTime over cellular (a new iOS 6 feature). So when AT&T said that those wanting that feature would need to move away from their current plans to one of the company's newly minted AT&T Mobile Share data plans, it didn't surprise us.

The uproar, though, may have surprised AT&T.

With a huge amount of public backlash over the company's stance on how folks will be able to use FaceTime, and talk that the stance could in fact violate FCC regulations over net neutrality, AT&T has come out with a lengthy missive that explains their decision.

The full response is seven paragraphs in length. In part, AT&T's senior vice president of regulatory affairs Bob Quinn said:

"... in another knee jerk reaction, some groups have rushed to judgment and claimed that AT&T’s plans will violate the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Those arguments are wrong.

"Providers of mobile broadband Internet access service are subject to two net neutrality requirements: (1) a transparency requirement pursuant to which they must disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband Internet access services; and (2) a no-blocking requirement under which they are prohibited, subject to reasonable network management, from blocking applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.

"Our policies regarding FaceTime will be fully transparent to all consumers, and no one has argued to the contrary. There is no transparency issue here. Nor is there a blocking issue. The FCC's net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones. "

So that seems to be their argument. If the application is pre-loaded, AT&T can do what it wants. He continues:
"... they [the rules] 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 lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems."

He continues, saying that any pre-loaded VOIP and video calling apps available thus far on AT&T phones have been limited to wi-fi, which is why AT&T had no concern over them. If, in fact, FaceTime were downloadable, Quinn says, AT&T would be forced to comply with net neutrality rules and allow it to work sans these restrictions.

If FaceTime was a downloadable app, AT&T would be forced by FCC Net Neutrality laws to allow it to work properly.

It will be interesting to see what AT&T does with Windows Phone 8 devices: Microsoft’s upcoming new platform version will include Skype, which works over cellular, pre-installed.

John Bergmayer, senior staff lawyer at Public Knowledge, disagrees with the nation's No. 2 wireless carrier. In a statement, he said, “There is no technical reason why one data plan should be able to access FaceTime and another not.”

On that point, AT&T brings up a technical reason: network load.  The compan

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