Three advocacy groups plan to file a formal complaint against AT&T, alleging the carrier is violating the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules for blocking a video-conferencing application on Apple's iPhones and iPads.
Free Press, Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute notified AT&T Tuesday that they intend to file a complaint with the FCC.
Apple's newest OS, iOS 6, allows customers to use the popular video-conferencing app FaceTime over mobile networks. In the past, FaceTime was limited, for mobile devices, to those connected to Wi-Fi. AT&T has said it will block FaceTime on mobile devices unless they subscribe to one of its new Mobile Share plans.
"AT&T's decision to block FaceTime unless a customer pays for voice and text minutes she doesn't need is a clear violation of the FCC's Open Internet rules," Free Press policy director Matt Wood said in an email. "It's particularly outrageous that AT&T is requiring this for iPad users, given that this device isn't even capable of making voice calls."
AT&T's decision is "incredibly harmful" to its customers, especially those who depend on mobile video apps, including the deaf, immigrant families and others with relatives overseas, Wood said.
The three groups argued that under the FCC's open Internet, or net neutrality, rules passed in 2010, AT&T is prohibited from blocking apps that compete with the carrier's voice service.
"By blocking FaceTime, AT&T is harming its users and holding back mobile innovation," Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer said in a email. "What's more, its behavior is illegal. When the FCC adopted its Open Internet rules, it guaranteed that mobile users would be protected from such behavior."
AT&T representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comments, but Bob Quinn, the company's senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, defended the company's decision in an August blog post. Quinn argued the net neutrality rules apply only to downloaded apps, not ones preloaded on mobile devices.
The rules "address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony services," Quinn wrote. "AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems."
However, the FCC's net neutrality rules do not appear to make a distinction between preloaded and downloaded apps.
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 [email protected]