AT&T May Try To Charge FaceTime Users, Raising Net Neutrality Questions

from the or,-time-to-find-another-carrier dept

One of the main concerns of those who worry about net neutrality is how a network provider might block or charge extra for competing services. For example, telcos who still make a fair bit of money from voice services might not like competing services like Skype. Or... Apple FaceTime. So it's interesting to see a report from 9to5Mac suggesting that AT&T may be planning to charge extra to use FaceTime over cellular. This came out when testing iOS6 and receiving a popup requiring "activation." Here's the screenshot of what 9to5 saw:
This does not absolutely mean that they're going to charge. Currently, FaceTime only works over WiFi, but iOS6 is set to enable it for cellular. It's possible that this popup is just because iOS6 is still in beta, and it's just a generic message for a service that is not yet available. But it's at least raising concerns about the intentions of AT&T, with groups like Free Press already warning that this would violate existing (if contested) FCC rules on net neutrality (which, it should be noted are very, very limited when it comes to mobile services). To be honest, I'm not sure why AT&T would actually go down this path. It's already trying to cap and/or meter mobile bandwidth, so it already has a natural restriction on usage. Furthermore, since the iPhone is now widely available on other platforms, charging extra for FaceTime seems like a perfect strategy for driving iPhone users to other mobile operators.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    abc gum, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 5:18am

    Net Neutrality is the new communism, film at eleven.

     

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    Rabbit80, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 5:43am

    Facetime?

    Isn't that kinda Skype in drag? I have no problems running that on my Android phone - and I don't need to go anywhere near the Apple garden.

     

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      Wally (profile), Jul 19th, 2012 @ 12:25am

      Re: Facetime?

      Skype has the EXACT same interface for my iPod, for iPhones, and iPads that it does for Android and I can assure you FaceTime is no way like Skype.

      First off, FaceTime is way more reliable than Skype for two person video conferencing. Having used them both on my 4th Gen iPod Touch, FaceTime is more reliable because it is a Peer To Peer connection. The synchronization between users at 2Mbits down and 256Kbits up is compareable to that of a standard land line telophone. Skype delays because you have to log into their servers and use their features remotely to establish all communication. FaceTime you just need Apple's FaceTime servers to act as a telephone switch board to make your connection.

      Now with Skype at the above mentioned speeds, the highest reliable resolution is around the size of a postage stamp on your device's (320x240). With FaceTime you get 30 frames a second at 960x480 and at 324dpi)

      You should also note that FaceTime operates totally differently from Skype. Skype keeps you logged in during and after the call. FaceTime just needs your Apple ID e-mail log in to tell the other user who is calling, and to tell Apple's server to connect you. It is like a telephone switch board, once you stop a FaceTime session, the connection is lost.

      .

       

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    ebilrawkscientist (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 5:58am

    Transport Layer

    Dear Internet Service Providers of the world, Please remember Sirs, that you must only be a means of data transport between any medium and the end user, nothing more.

    In otherwords a neutral dumb pipe. Endof.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 6:28am

      Get Serious

      Do you honestly believe for one second that politely admonishing a for-profit business not to charge for something when they could otherwise make scads of cash does a damned thing to stop it?

      No wonder the world is doomed.

      Nothing short of killing these types of soulless "people" will stop them from screwing more money out of you every single way they can and with every single lie they can get away with.

      The mistake is depending of for-profit businesses with monopolies enforced by the farce of laws made by the politicians they purchased, period.

      Like I said, the world is doomed (thanks to the existence of two types of people: 1) evil greedy soulless bastards and 2) the naive sheeple they bilk).

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 7:55am

        Re: Get Serious

        Those two types of people have existed throughout history, and civilization hasn't died off just yet. The current crop of type #1 is particularly stupid this century, though. All short-term, no long-term, and absolutely no subtlety.
        They make "secret backroom deals" that make news headlines, they constantly provoke the public, and when their plans fall through, they throw tantrums, and then try the same thing again, expecting a different result. It's the most pathetic form of villainy I've ever seen.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 6:25am

    Now that 'everyone' (not counting T-Mobile, just waiting for the funeral) has the iPhone available, even prepaid providers, ATT is probably trying to shed some of its high bandwidth users, or at least the ones where the bandwidth use / dollars per month quotient is too low. A speed bump like this is a great way to get some of those users to self-select out to a different carrier, where they will likely be a drain on someone else.

     

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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 6:27am

    I think all those "call ISP to enable service X (for a price)" are just a form of double-dipping.

    They already cap internet usage, they charge you for that internet usage. Someone used the water analogy already: charging you for water, but charging you extra if you use it to water your garden, and "enabling the service" of using it to flush the toilet.

     

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    lucidrenegade (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 6:35am

    Update

    Looks like it very well may happen.

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/17/att-facetime-charge/

     

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      Pangolin (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 6:54am

      Re: Update

      Thanks for the URL. As troubling as a Facetime charge would be - the OTHER stuff in this article - ap developers paying for bandwidth their users use - is even MORE troubling.

       

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        Pixelation, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 7:15am

        Re: Re: Update

        "...ap developers paying for bandwidth their users use - is even MORE troubling."

        At first blush, besides a way to double dip, it seems to me a way to eliminate the small app developers from making high bandwidth apps.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 6:37am

    if a company can charge 100 people $1.00 but have them not spend on other services or 1000 people nothing, but have that 1000 people spend on other services from the company, which road do you think they will go down? the sensible one or the 'i must be and stay in control' one, even though it loses me money overall?

    answers on the point of a pin, please!

     

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      Chris-Mouse (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 10:37am

      Re:

      "answers on the point of a pin, please!"

      I would happily do so, but alas I lack a paintbrush large enough to make the answer fit onto the point properly.

       

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    John Doe, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 7:08am

    Why do companies push people to other services?

    It is amazing to me that companies that provide networking as a service do everything they can to push you off that network. Currently, the cell phone providers do all that they can to push you to use WiFi instead of cell service. But why? WiFi is becoming more and more ubiquitous so it is not out of the realm of possibility that you buy a smartphone independent of a carrier and use mostly WiFi for your broadband access. Maybe carry a bare minimum cell plan for the times you aren't in WiFi coverage.

    I was at a talk given by some Sprint employees, not sure what level they were in the company, where one of them mentioned this fact. So at least someone in one of the companies recognized that they may be obsoleting themselves.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 9:11am

      Re: Why do companies push people to other services?

      WiFi is becoming more and more ubiquitous so it is not out of the realm of possibility that you buy a smartphone independent of a carrier and use mostly WiFi for your broadband access.


      I do exactly this. In practice, the times when I actually need to use any serious bandwidth are the times when I'm near a WiFi AP. When I'm away from suitable APs, 90% of the time I'm traveling or engaging in some real life activity, and my bandwidth needs are very small.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Jul 18th, 2012 @ 10:25am

        Re: Re: Why do companies push people to other services?

        I do this also. I keep a minimal pre-paid data plan and use wi-fi 90+% of the time. Ironically, it's actually useful to me to be able to prevent bandwidth hogs like facetime (I'm actually on Android) from using cellular data when I do need to enable it.

        A data balance that will let me check e-mail, etc. all month can get sucked down in 30 seconds of video. So I prefer having the "speedbump" in place. For too many apps, it's not an option to use wifi only.

        As far as devs paying for data, it doesn't seem too different from using toll-free phone numbers. It's only a problem if this model gets forced on all the devs.

         

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    Designerfx (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 7:17am

    apparently that's not all ATT is doing

    increasing costs via a lack of competition is another part, as they introduce the "pay more than before" plan (that's what it should be called).
    http://www.bgr.com/2012/07/18/att-shared-data-plans-pricing-launch-date/

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 9:05am

    It's part of their nature

    To be honest, I'm not sure why AT&T would actually go down this path.


    Why wouldn't they? They already do this sort of thing for tethering. Doing it with FaceTime is little different.

     

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    drhead (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 10:37am

    It's possible that it could still be free. Know that video calls take up a lot of data very fast, and there are plenty of AT&T iPhone users who have the 200MB data plan (since it is cheap). I'm hoping they are just using that as a 'safety' switch so you don't end up with an asston of overage fees from one day of using FaceTime over cellular data.

    However, they could very well do this and keep most customers. As an AT&T customer, I know they use some dirty tricks to keep you on their network. Their contracts last 2 years, and they offer discounted upgrades after 18 months into a contract if you renew your contract (you can get a 16gb iPhone of the latest generation for $200, and many phones for free). So for 6 months, you get to contemplate getting a shiny new phone, staying strong and waiting for your contract to expire (they often give you deeper discounts if you try this), or a $400 contract termination fee. Considering how the iPhone 5 is supposed to release with iOS 6, a lot of people will just go for the upgrade.

    However, last time I checked, AT&T has no service to compete with FaceTime, so they're really shooting themselves in the foot if they actually plan to charge for it.

    And yes, they do charge for tethering. However, it's not too hard to jailbreak and get free tethering. They can't catch you. Paid FaceTime usage would also be easily circumvented. Hell, there are already things that let you do FaceTime over 3G.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 1:45pm

      Re:

      However, it's not too hard to jailbreak and get free tethering. They can't catch you.


      Yes, I do this. (Actually, I just replace the OS with Cyanogenmod, which avoids any carrier's crippling as well as all those awful apps that you can't delete, but same difference).

      However, it's wrong to say that they can't catch you. They most certainly can, but it's pretty easy to avoid being caught unless you start using lots of bandwidth. The penalty if they catch you is that they automatically enroll you in the tethering plan.

       

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    Wally (profile), Jul 18th, 2012 @ 1:08pm

    Charges

    This means AT&T will be measuring by throughput rather than downloaded data. Using FaceTime is like using a webcam, the data is only streamed and never cached on your device. Sort of like having a VCR hooked up to a video camera. Comcast did this with Netflix and they are under investigation for it.

    I wonder how long it would take for an Anti-trust suit would follow if AT&T actually went through with this plan.

     

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    Brent (profile), Jul 19th, 2012 @ 12:05pm

    maybe someone else mentioned this already, i don't understand how charging for Facetime over 3G is any different than charging an additional monthly fee for mobile hotspot usage? Mobile Hotspot is a feature that every cell phone with both an active data plan (3G, EDGE, 4G or LTE), and a bluetooth or wifi chip is capable of but has been disabled by carrier contracts with manufacturers.

    The same is currently true for Facetime over 3G so how would AT&T charging extra for this violate Net Neutrality 'guidelines' but mobile hotspots not?

     

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    EddieCell (profile), Oct 7th, 2012 @ 10:25pm

    No more ATanT

    I got so tired of dealing with all their stupitd up charges and not having a good network to begin with. I was with them for so long til I moved to a new company called solavei that you can see here http://ultimatephoneplan.com. You get the unlimited 4g talk text and data for only $49 bucks! that's the same service most people get for half the price.

    They also have a cool thing there that if you refer 3 people then your phone bill reduces to $29 and if you continue to refer people you'll actually start making an income from all of it. I think that's way cooler then having a huge phone bill every month.

     

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