Customers with tiered data plans and LTE-capable iOS devices will soon be able to conduct FaceTime video calls over a cellular connection.
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Facing the threat of litigation from public interest groups, AT&T on Thursday said it will support Apple's FaceTime video calling application across all of its tiered data plans for customers with an LTE-capable iPhone or iPad.
Users of Apple's iPhone 4S or earlier and those with existing unlimited data plans (which AT&T discontinued on new plans) will continue to be unable to access FaceTime over a cellular connection.
In August, AT&T said it would only support FaceTime on its Mobile Share plans. Customers without such a plan could still use FaceTime over a Wi-Fi connection, but not over AT&T's cellular network. AT&T justified its decision by saying it was concerned about the impact of all that video data traffic on its network. The company insisted that limiting FaceTime did not violate Federal Communication Commission rules.
Several public interest groups disagreed. In September, Free Press, Public Knowledge and New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute warned AT&T that they intended to file a formal complaint with the FCC.
On Thursday, AT&T committed to making FaceTime available to customers on any of its tiered data plans in eight to 10 weeks and to making new billing plans available for hearing-impaired customers so they can use FaceTime. In announcing the change, AT&T senior executive VP Jim Cicconi reiterated the company's previous insistence that it blocked FaceTime to avoid overloading its network with data traffic.
Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, a public interest media organization, said in a statement that the law does not allow AT&T to block FaceTime out of concern about network congestion.
"AT&T simply can't justify blocking an app that competes with its voice and texting services unless customers purchase a more expensive monthly plan that includes an unlimited amount of those very same services," said Wood. "AT&T's course correction is a move in the right direction, but until the company makes FaceTime available to all of its customers it is still in violation of the FCC's rules and the broader principles of Net neutrality."
In a joint statement, Free Press, Public Knowledge and New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute said they intend to proceed with their complaint to the FCC if AT&T does not make FaceTime available to all of its customers, rather than just those on tiered data plans with an LTE-capable iOS device.
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