AT&T is coming under fire for its policy regarding FaceTime on the iPhone. In Apple’s latest software update, iOS 6, the company has opened up FaceTime to use over cellular data networks. AT&T is limiting that option to customers who purchase a shared data plan. Customers with an individual plan will not be able to use the feature over the cellular data network, but they will be able to use it over Wi-Fi. Three special interest groups plan to file complaints with the FCC over the decision.
The decision by AT&T is a big challenge to net neutrality. The FCC implemented rules a few years ago regarding net neutrality, but largely left the wireless arena out of the new regulations. AT&T is taking full advantage of this absence of regulations by forcing customers to buy a certain service in order to gain all the benefits of wireless data. Verizon Wireless allows any data plan to use FaceTime.
The policy is designed to push customers towards the more expensive shared data plans. The new plans can be cost effective if they are actually being shared among several people, but for a single person they are generally more expensive than the individual option. Given that FaceTime uses your allotted data in your plan, there is no other reason for AT&T to limit this feature to those on shared data plans. It is a business decision, and not a network management decision.
Congestion over wireless internet is one of the reasons why net neutrality has not been extended to this area. The thinking behind that decision is that providers need more leeway in managing their networks in order to make them run smoothly for all consumers. The infrastructure is not in place yet to handle a demand that is growing exponentially. It is unclear if supply will ever be able to meet demand in this regard.
AT&T’s policy over FaceTime shows the problem with allowing this much leeway. By allowing the application’s use to some customers, but not others, AT&T is violating the spirit of the net neutrality compromise. If FaceTime is a major problem, it should not be allowed to any customers. By allowing those with shared data plans to use it, AT&T is showing that they are capable of allowing the program’s use. As stated earlier, Verizon is allowing all customers to use FaceTime, so we know it is possible.
AT&T is proving an old adage true, give someone an inch and they will take a mile. The big telecoms were given room to work within the wireless data field, and now AT&T is exploiting that leeway. This wisdom has proven true time and time again in regards to deregulation. The country has already seen its share of disasters due to lax regulations, such as the financial collapse of 2007-2008. Our future will be internet based, which means failure to properly regulate bad actors could lead to an even bigger crisis down the road.