FaceTime is now available to use over cellular networks, unless you're an AT&T unlimited data user

US carrier AT&T is coming under fire for its decision to block Apple’s FaceTime application over mobile networks for users on unlimited data plans.

In previous incarnations of the video chat application, it only functioned via wifi connections. However, for the iOS6 platform – due to be released this week on the iPhone 5 handset – FaceTime has been modified so that it can be used over cellular networks. Nonetheless, AT&T has said that it would only provide this feature for customers who subscribe to its Mobile Share tariff, which imposes data limits on users.

Three US public interest groups: Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, have sent a letter to operator notifying it of their intent to file a formal complaint. They claim that AT&T is violating net neutrality by blocking the application.

“We respectfully request that AT&T reconsider its behaviour and the impact that blocking FaceTime will have on its customers, particularly the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as all who use this application to communicate with family and friends over the internet,” they wrote.

They added that making mobile use of the application available only to those customers who pay for limited voice and text messages harms individuals and innovation alike.

“We ask instead that AT&T make this core feature of the popular iPhone and iPad devices available to all of its customers, in compliance with the Open Internet rules that “preserve the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission.”

Free Press policy director Matt Wood added that it is “particularly outrageous” that AT&T is requiring iPad users to also subscribe to this plan, given that this device isn’t even capable of making voice calls.

The operator responded defiantly to the complaints, claiming that 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,” said Bob Quinn, VP of regulatory affairs at AT&T.

“We are broadening our customers’ ability to use the preloaded version of FaceTime but limiting it in this manner to our newly developed AT&T Mobile Share data plans out of an overriding concern for the impact this expansion may have on our network and the overall customer experience.”


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