October 07, 2009, 2:32 PM — Net neutrality is not even law and already appears to be forcing changes on wireless carriers. AT&T, which previously prevented Skype from routing voice calls over its 3G wireless data network, Tuesday reversed its position.
The decision means iPhone customers will be able to use Skype to place voice calls from their handsets. Other AT&T smartphones are not affected by the change, the company said.
Will Google Voice be next? AT&T says no and continues to blame Apple for the decision not to offer the iPhone application. However, with the FCC investigation continuing and AT&T buckling, how much longer will Apple take the heat?
Many observers feel that Apple's decision against Google Voice was really taken more to protect AT&T than the iPhone itself. They see AT&T's decision as opening the door for Apple to make a less-than-graceful retreat. It is hard to see how Skype and Google Voice are terribly different from either Apple or AT&T's perspective.
AT&T had previously only allowed Skype to make voice calls when connected to a Wi-Fi network, considerably limiting its functionality. Skype, however, competes with AT&T's ability to change for voice calls on a per-minute basis.
Allowing VoIP applications on its data network will, theoretically, allow some AT&T customers to reduce the number of voice minutes they purchase each month by replacing them with Skype calls carried over the data network.
AT&T's decision is a big win for net neutrality proponents, including Obama FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who have proposed writing neutrality principles into the Commission's rules.
GOP lawmakers have opposed the move, however, and a fight in Congress appears likely.
AT&T has been particularly outspoken against net neutrality, a concept under which carriers much treat all Internet traffic equally. AT&T's discrimination against Skype is a violation of neutrality principles.
Carriers generally oppose net neutrality, even while making favorable noises about some aspects, because it denies them the ability to charge for service based on the type of data being sent over their networks. This limits their ability to protect their existing services, such as voice telephony, likely to be encroached by Internet applications.
Neutrality proponents say in a digital world, all digital information should be treated equally,