On Friday, AT&T announced that only users of its new Mobile Share plans will be able to access Apple’s FaceTime service over its cellular network. It was an announcement that was expected, but it enraged a large number of people. Since AT&T’s Mobile Share plans can be outrageously expensive for smaller groups of people, AT&T is essentially charging them more to use their data in ways that they want to.
According to a statement made by Public Knowledge’s senior staff attorney John Bergmayer, that is a violation of the Open Internet rules that the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) has put into place.
“By blocking FaceTime for many of its customers, AT&T is violating the FCC’s Open Internet rules. These rules state that mobile providers shall not ‘block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.’ Although carriers are permitted to engage in ‘reasonable network management,’ there is no technical reason why one data plan should be able to access FaceTime, and another not. ‘Over-the-top’ communications services like FaceTime are a threat to carriers’ revenue, but they should respond by competing with these services and not by engaging in discriminatory behavior.”
If that’s true, then the FCC will have to step in and tell AT&T to stop discriminating against its customers.
So why am I happy that might happen? Well, it’s not a secret that carrier regulation in the United States really doesn’t exist: for the most part, carriers have been able to institute whatever limits they wanted to – not to mention price fixing with competitors and essentially ‘oligopolizing’ certain areas. (For reference, the definition of an oligopoly is “a market form in which a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers, named oligopolists.”)
As soon as the FCC feels that it has enough power over carriers, then it will impose – and enforce – its own set of rules to make sure that consumers are treated fairly. Right now, that isn’t happening – and all you have to do to see that is research the mobile data sharing plans that both AT&T and Verizon have introduced just recently.
And that’s exactly why I’m happy. I want carriers to be regulated. According to AT&T, since I pay it (in comparison to its Mobile Share plan) very little, I am not allowed to use FaceTime on either of my iPhones. At the same time, I do pay it. And I pay for data that I’d love to be able to use in ways that I want to use it!
If you can’t tell, I’m really excited to see where this goes and what AT&T and the FCC will do. I have a feeling that this could get much bigger than it already is.
What are you thoughts on AT&T’s rather discriminatory FaceTime decision?[Public Knowledge]