AT&T reverses FaceTime blocking decision

The carrier will allow Apple's videoconferencing app on data plans other than Mobile Share

AT&T has reversed its decision to allow Apple iPhone and iPad owners to use Apple's FaceTime videoconferencing application only on the carrier's most expensive data plans or if they are connected to Wi-Fi.

AT&T on Thursday announced it would allow customers with Apple devices to use FaceTime on other LTE plans in addition to its Mobile Share data plan. The carrier's decision comes after three advocacy groups said in September they planned to file a net neutrality complaint against AT&T at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

Free Press, Public Knowledge and New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute will move forward with the net neutrality complaint if AT&T does not make FaceTime available to its customers in a timely manner, Free Press said in a press release.

"The law is clear," Free Press policy director Matt Wood said in an email. "AT&T simply can't justify blocking an app that competes with its voice and texting services unless customers purchase a more expensive monthly plan that includes an unlimited amount of those very same services."

The FCC approved net neutrality regulations in late 2010.

AT&T made the original decision to limit FaceTime use because the carrier has so many iPhone owners on its network, said Jim Cicconi, the carrier's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs. "When Apple rolls out new services or changes, as it did in iOS 6, it can have a much greater, and more immediate, impact on AT&T's network than is the case with carriers who have far fewer iPhone users," he wrote in a blog post.

With FaceTime preloaded on "tens of millions of iPhones, AT&T engineers could not predict how much the app would be used and how much it would affect AT&T's network, Cicconi wrote. "It is for this reason that we took a more cautious approach toward the app."

But the decision "raised questions and some concerns," Cicconi added.

AT&T will roll out FaceTime for data users over eight to 10 weeks, he said. Starting on Oct. 26, the carrier began offering new billing plans designed to help deaf and hard-of-hearing customers use FaceTime, he added.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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