Cellphones, Cyberlaw, FCC, iPhone, Technology

AT&T’s New Restriction on iPhone FaceTime Gets Hit With FCC Complaint, As It Should

Just as the new iPhone was announced last week, AT&T was making another, significantly less popular announcement. Although Apple will now allow iPhone owners to use FaceTime (a.k.a. the super-futuristic video phone feature) over the cellular network, instead of just WiFi, AT&T will not. Unless, of course, you buy into its new shared-data plan.

But we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more!

This morning, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute announced it would file a complaint with the FCC alleging AT&T has violated net neutrality rules. Let’s see the details of the complaint as well as discuss why AT&T is wrong…

In this morning’s Free Press release, the net neutrality advocacy organization says AT&T violated the FCC’s provision, “which prohibit companies from blocking” applications such as FaceTime on their mobile networks.

When the telecom giant decided to block FaceTime over the cell network, it knew people wouldn’t like the decision, and company officials attempted to explain why they weren’t actually “blocking” anything or breaking any rules.

According to Gigaom, AT&T’s stance was, in short: if you buy in to our new shared-data plans, you can have FaceTime on the cell network, and FaceTime is still available over WiFi, so it’s not actually blocked.

Both of those are weak sauce justifications. AT&T (and other telecoms, at some level) are handling the ever-quicker advancement of smartphone and wireless technology the same way the entertainment industries have tried, and largely failed, to handle the digitization of those industries: clinging to core aspects of the business — voice and text messaging — that are becoming outdated and less useful.

“Telecom” simply does not mean telephone anymore. It’s a bigger package. When AT&T insists, as Free Press alleges, on forcing consumers to pay “for voice and text minutes [they don’t] need,” instead of at least attempting to embrace services that other tech companies offer essentially for free, they will continue alienating consumers and maybe strangle their own business.

To be fair, the industry is freaked out about bandwidth usage with services like FaceTime. Yes, fine. But here’s the thing: if AT&T just freaking allowed everyone to use FaceTime, the entire system is not going to collapse. Most people don’t want to use video phone all the time.

David Foster Wallace actually dealt with this whole dilemma in Infinite Jest back in 1996. Seriously. In short, when you talk to someone on the phone, it’s imperative that you can be allowed to not pay attention to whatever the other person is saying while naively believing that you have the undivided attention of person the other end of the the line 100 percent of the time. Video destroys that delicate illusion.

And I don’t want to see everyone I talk to on the phone — maybe I’m in the grocery store, or maybe I’m just in a poorly lit place. Maybe I just hate your face.

A friend told me the other day she thinks FaceTime is straight-up creepy. And that’s is a fair point too. Needless to say, I guess I won’t be going FaceTime crazy in the near future.

AT&T will be slapped with net neutrality complaint over FaceTime blocking [Gigaom]
Public Interest Groups to File Net Neutrality Complaint Against AT&T for Blocking FaceTime on iPhones and iPads [Free Press]

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