Watching folks try to untangle themselves from messes of their own making is often painful. No, I’m not talking about Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, but AT&T and the trouble it has made for itself by restricting the use of Apple’s FaceTime on its wireless network. AT&T’s latest effort, a posting by its top regulatory official, Bob Quinn on the AT&T Public Policy Blog, only makes things worse.
AT&T had prohibited FaceTime on its network since Apple introduced the app, allowing its use from AT&T iPhones and iPads only over Wi-Fi. It recently announced that it would allow FaceTime use for customers of its new Mobile Share plans, but not others. Presumably, the intention is to drive customers toward the Mobile Share plans. Or something. It makes no sense from any technical perspective since all the customers are using the same network.
The blog post, a nice piece of sophistry, is dedicated to explaining why the policy does not violate the Federal communications Commission’s network neutrality guidelines. The crux of the argument is that FaceTimes is a “preloaded” app and “the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps.” Meanwhile, Quinn notes, customers are free to download and use other video chat apps. If this makes sense to you, you are living on a different planet than I am.
The question of whether the AT&T rules violate FCC guidelines isn’t very important. For one thing, there’s a better than even chance the guidelines won’t survive a legal challenge. The bigger issue is that the AT&T policy is a badly conceived, anti-customer business practice.
AT&T meters customers’ wireless broadband use, effectively charging by the byte. If customers choose to use up their monthly allotment in FaceTime chats, what business is it of AT&T? It’s their data, to use as they please. In fact, the company ought to be happy because the use of a bandwidth-gobbling app like FaceTime is likely to push customers into overages, producing more revenue.
Another weirdness about the post is that it suggests that after five years of selling iPhones, AT&T still has no idea of how this business works. There are no preloaded apps on iPhones, not in the sense of the often junky applications carriers used to pile onto their phones (and still do on some Android models.) The software load of the iPhone is completely controlled by Apple and FaceTime is a core feature of iOS. The statement, “Although the rules don’t require it, some preloaded apps are available without charge on phones sold by AT&T, including FaceTime, but subject to some reasonable restrictions” comes off as nonsense when applied to the iPhone.