iPhone - Facetime over 3G Cellular

AT&T officially announced in August that customers on its new Mobile Share plans will be able to place FaceTime calls over its cellular data network. That move riled up a several groups, including Public Knowledge, Free Press and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, which argue that AT&T is violating Net Neutrality rules by restricting how its subscribers can use data.

If you’re unfamiliar with what net neutrality is, here’s a simple example: the FCC doesn’t want (nor should you, really) cable providers limiting how subscribers can use the Internet. So, for example, RCN can’t block you from using Netflix or Hulu in an attempt to promote its own services. Since wireless carriers also provide Internet access, public policy groups believe the same rules should, and do, apply. That’s why the aforementioned few have voiced concern in relation to AT&T’s decision to only allow Mobile Share subscribers to use FaceTime over its 3G network.

As all stories, this one has two sides. From AT&T’s perspective, it needs to maintain a level of data quality so that its subscribers can actually use the network. It priced the new Mobile Share plans accordingly. It also left it up to subscribers to choose which plans they want. Verizon, on the other hand, only offers its new Share Everything bucket data plans (save for those who want to pay the full price of a phone and keep an older plan). Let’s switch gears and get back to the complaint itself.

“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,” Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said in a statement Tuesday. “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, including the deaf, immigrant families and others with relatives overseas, who depend on mobile video apps to communicate with friends and family.”

Wood makes a fair point, but also doesn’t address several free third party video applications that AT&T isn’t blocking. Skype and Tango are two I can think of off the top of my head, but there are several others as well. I think it’s a good thing that these groups are standing up for consumers, but how will allowing all users to place FaceTime calls over AT&T’s 3G and 4G data network result in a better data network experience for everyone? Is a deteriorated data network fair to smartphone users who don’t have FaceTime?

Public Knowledge, Free Press and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute plan to file an official complaint in the “coming weeks.”

[via Free Press]