Open Internet groups to file FCC complaint over AT&T's FaceTime blocking

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A trio of digital rights advocacy groups have indicated to AT&T they will file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission over the carrier's decision to block FaceTime calls over cellular data networks for some customers.

AT&T sparked dissatisfaction when it announced in August that it will require subscribers to switch to its new Mobile Share data plans to allow FaceTime calls over cellular 3G and 4G LTE data connections. FaceTime over cellular will be available to iPhone 4S and new iPad owners with the launch of iOS 6 on Wednesday, as well as those who buy the iPhone 5 on Friday.

The carrier's decision to block FaceTime calls over cellular data networks has prompted Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute to inform AT&T that they intend to file a complaint with the FCC, GigaOm reported on Tuesday.

"AT&€™s decision to block FaceTime unless a customer pays for voice and text minutes she doesn’t need is a clear violation of the FCC’s Open Internet rules," said Matt Wood, policy director with Free Press.

"It’s particularly outrageous that AT&T is requiring this for iPad users, given that this device isn’t even capable of making voice calls. AT&T’s actions are incredibly harmful to all of its customers, including the deaf, immigrant families and others with relatives overseas, who depend on mobile video apps to communicate with friends and family."


For its part, AT&T has said that its decision to block 3G FaceTime calls for non-Mobile Share customers is in compliance with the FCC's net neutrality rules because AT&T does not offer its own competing preloaded video chat application. The carrier said backlash to the decision was a "knee jerk reaction" in which some people "rushed to judgment."

"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," AT&T representative Bob Quinn said last month.

AT&T's Mobile Share plans launched in August, and start at a monthly price of $45 per smartphone, plus $40 for 1 gigabyte of data. The more data a subscriber adds to their plan, the less the cost per gigabyte and the cost per additional smartphone. For example, a 4-gigabyte plan with unlimited talk and text has a base price of $70, plus $40 for each smartphone.

In contrast, AT&T's chief competitor, Verizon, has announced that it will allow FaceTime video calls over cellular across all iPhone 5, iPhone 4S and new iPad data plans, without requiring customers to upgrade to its new shared plans.