AT&T Reverses Course, Allowing FaceTime Over Cellular For More Customers

Published on November 8, 2012
by Ina Fried

Amid mounting criticism, AT&T said Thursday that it will allow more customers to use FaceTime over its cellular network.

Initially, the company had restricted use to those customers on one of its shared data plans — a decision that triggered upset from some interest groups and customers. Under the move announced Thursday, iPhone 5 and LTE-equipped iPad customers on any of AT&T’s metered data plans will also be able to use the video chat service, though it will take eight to 10 weeks for all such customers to gain access.

Several public interest groups said the move came only after they informed AT&T of their plans to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission. Free Press, Public Knowledge and New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute said they will still file that complaint “if AT&T fails to make FaceTime available to all of its customers in a timely manner.”

“The law is clear,” Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said in a statement. “AT&T cannot block FaceTime based on claims of potential congestion. There’s nothing even remotely reasonable about that approach. 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. 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.”

AT&T defended its approach, saying it wanted a way to assess the network impact before making it available to all customers.

“We decided to take this cautious approach for important reasons,” it said in a blog post. “AT&T has by far more iPhones on our network than any other carrier. We’re proud of this fact and the confidence our customers have in us. But it also means that when Apple rolls out new services or changes, as it did in iOS 6, it can have a much greater, and more immediate, impact on AT&T’s network than is the case with carriers who have far fewer iPhone users.”

Customers on unlimited plans or with older iPhones still aren’t being promised access, though AT&T said it “will continue to gather and assess the network data on this issue over the next few months and anticipate that we will be able to expand the availability of FaceTime to our customers on other billing plans in the near future.”

Return to: AT&T Reverses Course, Allowing FaceTime Over Cellular For More Customers