AT&T is facing a formal complaint by public advocacy groups Free Press, Public Knowledge, and New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute for allegedly violating net neutrality by blocking well-known video chat application FaceTime. The groups informed AT&T they will be filing the complaint with the Federal Communications Commission in the next couple of weeks.
Anyone filing a formal complaint is required to give at least 10 days' notice of their intent to file, under the FCC's Open Internet rules, which prohibit companies from blocking these types of applications on their mobile networks. The rule allows "...limited exceptions for 'reasonable network management.'"
The complaint comes on the heels of Apple releasing its new iOS 6 operating system, which lets customers use FaceTime over mobile networks on the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and its third-generation iPad. Use of FaceTime previously was limited to Wi-Fi connections. Unless customers subscribe to one of AT&T's new Family Share plans, they will be unable to use FaceTime via mobile devices.
"AT&T'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 Free Press policy director Matt Wood, in a statement. "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."
By comparison, AT&T competitors such as Verizon and Sprint allow use of FaceTime and count any data usage toward the allotment in a subscriber's monthly plan.
In 2010, the FCC passed rules that AT&T cannot block apps that compete with the carrier's traditional voice-calling service. At the time, AT&T argued that the FCC's neutrality rules don't apply to apps that come pre-loaded on devices. FaceTime has been a part of Apple's iPhones since the iPhone 4 was introduced in 2010.
AT&T did not have an immediate response. But the carrier maintains the rules address "whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services,'' according to Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior VP of Federal Regulatory and Chief Privacy Office, in a blog post last month. "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."