In a followup to last week’s announcement that it won’t let iPhone owners use FaceTime over a 3G/4G cellular connection without signing up for a shared data plan first, AT&T responded to complaints this morning that the move may violate FCC net neutrality rules.AT&T says it’s not breaking FCC rules because FaceTime comes preinstalled on iPhones. The company claims the FCC rule in question only applies to apps you download to your device. (There are several third-party apps for iPhone such as Skype and ooVoo that let you video chat using a cellular data connection).
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in net neutrality and FCC rules. I’m sure AT&T is smart enough not to break the law. (I know many of you who are a lot smarter than me may disagree, so feel free to explain why in the comments below).
The problem is AT&T is restricting a hot feature on the most popular phone on the planet in a move that seems designed to push people towards the more expensive shared data plans that go into effect starting this month.
Since AT&T killed off its unlimited data plan more than a year ago, you can only buy tiered plans where you get a certain amount of data usage per month. If you go over, AT&T slaps you with a charge for an additional GB of data for the month. And that’s fine! I understand bandwidth can be limited, and it makes sense to charge people to use it.
What doesn’t make sense is telling customers how they can use the data they bought.
For a lot of people, it’s going to be more expensive to switch to a mobile share plan from the normal individual tiered plans. That’s because AT&T structures its shared plans so you can buy a block of data to use each month and split the usage among all your devices. It’s not a good deal if you’re not a heavy data user or just have one smartphone on your plan.
Now are the mobile share plans more expensive for everyone? No. If you have a lot of smartphones, hotspots, and tablets that use AT&T’s data connection, then it probably makes financial sense for you to get on board.
But that doesn’t apply to a lot of AT&T customers. For individuals, you’re forced to either live without Apple’s FaceTime over cellular or pay more for the privilege to use it.
Simply put, this a dumb, sneaky move by AT&T, especially since its competitor Sprint won’t limit how customers use FaceTime over cellular. Verizon hasn’t come out with a statement on the issue, but based on the way it structures its data plans now, you shouldn’t have a problem using FaceTime over cellular. Even more embarrassing for AT&T: T-Mobile announced this morning that it’s going to offer customers unlimited 4G data plans. No slowdowns. No data caps. Just unlimited data usage like we enjoyed in the good old days.
It’s a dangerous, slippery slope to limit smartphone features on a device just because a customer doesn’t sign up for the most expensive data plan. If you buy data, it should be your data to use as you want.
Unfortunately for AT&T customers, that’s not your carrier’s policy.