When news broke a couple of weeks ago that AT&T was about to screw over customers of past and present data plans by denying them the right to FaceTime over 3G, many people cried fowl – why was it, they asked, that AT&T could pick and choose which outgoing and incoming data was “compatible” with their service? All data comes through in the same way – 0′s and 1′s are 0′s and 1′s no matter which app is sending and receiving them – so what gives AT&T the right to pick and choose which 0′s and 1′s you can send with the data plan that you pay for?
Well, as it turns out, AT&T has a whole list of reasons they have to right to do just that. Most specifically, the FCC gives carriers the right to enable and disable built-in features of a phone. Because FaceTime is built into iOS and not an app downloadable through the App Store, they have every right to ignore the fact that you have a data plan that you probably pay too much for that won’t work when it should. Here’s what AT&T’s official statement was on the matter:
The FCC’s net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones. Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps. Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services. 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. (I won’t name any of them for fear that I will be accused by these same groups of discriminating in favor of those apps. But just go to your app store on your device and type “video chat.”) Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s absolutely absurd to pretend that there’s any sort of difference between an app bundled in with a phone and an app downloaded from the App Store, AT&T is just continue to confirm to the world why thousands upon thousands of users flocked and continue to flock to alternatives Verizon and Sprint (Sprint of which has already confirmed that they’ll be allowing all users to take advantage of FaceTime over 3G for free) as soon as the iPhone was available on the networks.