by Tim Cushing

Filed Under:
apps, broadband meters, net neutrality, streaming apps


AT&T Says You Can Use Any Video Streaming App You Want... Just As Soon As It Can Get The Meter Running

from the cheap-phone-subsidized-with-a-two-year-shakedown dept

AT&T isn't going to let something like "net neutrality" slow it down from shaking every spare cent out of its customer base. (Source: I'm a customer. Also: see these.) Beginning last year with its blocking of Apple's Facetime app (exempting customers who were paying for higher service tiers) and continuing on through its recent lockout of Google Hangouts, AT&T has skirted neutrality by using one term: pre-loaded.

In its mind, as long as an app is "pre-loaded" by phone manufacturers (and competing options are available), AT&T can block app functionality if it feels it's somehow leaving money on the table. Of course, this irritates many of its customers and brings with it an uncomfortable amount of heat as the word travels around the web.

AT&T has now issued another statement to critics of its Hangout-blocking, one which sends the clear message that the company will gladly welcome streaming video apps with open arms (even pre-loaded apps), just as soon as it's able to simultaneously welcome a fat stream of income.

AT&T has issued a second, follow up statement that doesn't make a whole lot more sense than the first one did, and again tries to place the blame at the feet of OS and device makers. AT&T does, however, promise that they'll stop blocking video chat apps from running over their network by the end of this year:

"For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we currently give all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share or Tiered plans. Apple, Samsung and BlackBerry have chosen to enable this for their pre-loaded video chat apps. And by mid-June, we’ll have enabled those apps over cellular for our unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices from those three manufacturers.

Throughout the second half of this year, we plan to enable pre-loaded video chat apps over cellular for all our customers, regardless of data plan or device; that work is expected to be complete by year end.

Today, all of our customers can use any mobile video chat app that they download from the Internet, such as Skype."
AT&T's buying time while trying to appear to be working towards a "solution" for all of its customers. The longer it can hold out, the more likely the chance that someone upgrades or switches devices, thus pulling them off their grandfathered unlimited data plans and onto tiered/metered plans that earn AT&T a bit more money.

It tries to present this as a network issue, but Karl Bode translates AT&T's corporatespeak into the miserable truth:
In other words this isn't really technical (AT&T's LTE network is currently ranked the fastest available in the States), it's a way to bully unlimited users on to costlier plans. It's also a network neutrality violation, regardless of AT&T's choice of language.
Now, there's nothing wrong with a business attempting to earn more money. But the key word here is "earn." AT&T's just trying to grab more income while offering nothing in return but a bunch of laughable statements -- both in regards to the current issues, as well as the non-stop "congestion" posturing it uses to justify limited, expensive data plans. It's obviously most interested in tying users to high-margin "services." The least it could do is drop the obviously ridiculous statements and tell its customers they can have what they want just as soon as it gets what it wants.

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  1. icon
    DannyB (profile), 22 May 2013 @ 12:30pm

    It's like Tethering all over again

    Treating Video as some sort of special use of data is as stupid as treating Tethering (to your laptop) as some kind of special use of data.

    Data is like water. It's all potable. It all comes into the house over the same pipes.

    I'm going to repost something I wrote earlier. Just replace all cases of Tethering with Video/Facetime/Hangouts/etc.

    Quick Tethering Quiz.

    Which costs more and which puts more stress on their network:
    1. A 1 kilobyte packet transmitted between my phone and the tower.
    2. A 1 kilobyte packet transmitted between my phone and the tower.
    (Please note in the case of (1) the packet was from my mobile browser, and in the case of (2) the packet was from my laptop browser.)

    If I have a 2 GB monthly data limit, which of the following activities will use more data on the network:
    1. Downloading 2 GB of data to my mobile phone?
    2. Downloading 2 GB of data to my laptop?

    I have an interesting situation. My water utility sells me metered water for washing dishes, watering the lawn, showering, and other limited purposes.

    The utility offers a Tasting plan for an additional monthly charge. Under this plan, I am allowed to use the water also for cooking and drinking. (Even though my water use is metered, and each gallon of water for cooking and drinking is delivered by the same pipes!)

    Dear customer: our records indicate that you have been using water for cooking and/or drinking. Please upgrade your water rate plan to our convenient Tasting plan that allows for this usage. If you continue to use water for cooking and drinking, you will be signed up for the Tasting plan automatically.

    I think the Tasting plan is just a fee that they made up. It isn't a service they provide. They just want more money from me. I've got a workaround of using a container to obtain water from another room for the purposes of cooking and drinking.

    Some people shout: Theft of service!
    But what service? They're already delivering water to me, and metering it, and I'm paying for it, and its delivered by the same pipes!

    Some people shout: but you signed an agreement and using the water for cooking and drinking is a breach of that agreement!
    Ask a lawyer about the term "unconscionable contract".
    Nobody in their right mind would agree to this if they had any actual choice in the matter. Just because they have the power and can force you into paying this ridiculous fee or doing without doesn't make it right.

    I say that this Tasting "service" is no service at all, it's just a fee for delivering nothing at all extra to me. It's a case of the utility wanting something for nothing. Yet people seem to think it is somehow wrong to use the water I'm paying for for drinking or cooking unless I sign up for the more expensive Tasting plan.

    In order to add legitimacy to their Tasting plan, the water company says that the Tasting plan is actually delivering something: it includes an additional 2 Gigabytes of water per month, giving you 4 total Gigabytes of water.

    But what if I only need 2 Gigabytes of water and therefore my existing monthly 2 Gigabyte plan is plenty? The water company already charges $10 per extra Gigabyte of water I use over the limit. So if I used excess water, it's not like they wouldn't get paid.

    Furthermore, once I sign up for the Tasting plan, they don't make any distinction between water used for drinking/cooking and water used for other purposes. I could use 3/4 of it for tasting, and 1/4 for bathing/dishwashing. Or any other split. Or all of it purely for tasting. So then if I paid for Tasting and used only 2 Gigabytes of water, which I already had paid for, then why did I need the Tasting plan?

    I seem to be very confused about stealing water for tasting. Someone please set me straight.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2013 @ 12:37pm

    Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    That's just like cable companies. They broadcast (TV) at full 1080p. If you don't want to pay extra for that, then they decimate/downgrade it so you pay less for more work and the same bits delivered. In other words, you have to pay the cable company to not downgrade their signal at your house.

    For some reason when the meters are digital, they are considered precious gold with all kinds of rights. When it's a natural resource (water/gas/electricity) it's just a dumb meter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2013 @ 12:37pm

    So I'm in the market for a new phone this May/June and I've already decided to go for a fully unlocked device and get a monthly plan instead of a contract. So far the only downside is that I'm giving AT&T what they want in a way since I'm releasing them from my grandfathered unlimited contract. On the other hand they will no longer be getting any money from me and I'll have a phone that hasn't been branded with their ridiculous logo (it's like signing someone else's painting) or weighed down with the crappy bloatware services that offer the same thing good does for free but for an additional fee they try to trick you into paying by making them the default.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2013 @ 12:37pm

    I remember when people when people used to call us people talking about net neutrality 'delusional', and claiming we were worried about a nonexistent problem. And then AT&T and others claimed we were just anti-business liberals. Ahh the good old days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2013 @ 12:56pm

    Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    it sounds to me as if you need to do away with taps that are in any room except the bathroom (washing, showering etc) and outside (watering the lawn) if you then continue, as you stated, to get containers of water from the bat tap or outside to wash dishes, you will be fine :-). that should also lead to all new houses being built with no water source in the kitchen, which i would think is a violation of health laws. the court case from this could be very interesting!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Nick (profile), 22 May 2013 @ 1:00pm

    Why... Doesn't google and apple just release a non pre-loaded app that is identical to the main app to get around the "pre-loaded app traffic must be paid for" rule?

    Which, by the way, seems the complete opposite of what you'd think: Pre-loaded apps on a phone indicate that the cellular provider was ok with the app being on the phone in the first place (since the provider has some control over the OS that is installed, such as their logo plastered all over the boot screen). If an app WASN'T pre-approved, such as added on after the purchase, then you'd expect the cellular provider could MAYBE have a little bit of a gripe if their customers start using that app for a lot of traffic.

    Which is all bogus, of course, as all of this is just absurd. Traffic whether from a video app, VOIP app, or other, is all the same bandwidth. I wish they'd just come out and state that what they hate is not that people use their bandwidth limits, but that people ACTUALLY use the speed they were given. It frustrates me that, similar to ISPs, they actually feel threatened when their customers use the speeds they pay for, and feel they have to punish them as a result.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Rick Smith (profile), 22 May 2013 @ 1:05pm


    we forcibly separate the telecom business from the content delivery business this will contain to happen.

    We should just designate a few companies as telecom providers and they can not do anything other than hook you up to the network. Their entire existence will be the building, expanding, and maintaining the various telecommunication networks (this includes but is not limited to voice, video, and data). Allow them to sell access using any plan they want as long as at least 2 of them servicing an area. If an area only has 1 provider then it run as a local utility and it must have all changes approved.

    Entertainment Studios, Cable/Satellite companies, music labels, etc, can have absolutely no relationships (other than buying access as everyone else will have to) with the telecom providers.

    No net neutrality issues. No bundling craziness. In most places where there exists a large number of people you should get genuine competition. For smaller/rural areas you should at least have the options that currently exist and the community will have some input into what is offered.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    anonymouse, 22 May 2013 @ 1:12pm

    Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    Hopefully this will be brought up in the next discussion about network neutrality.
    Other than that this just encourages more and more people to demand services like Google fiber 1gb system, which hopefully will grow faster and faster around the country and give places like AT&T a real problem. Damn imagine if they had to sell off their internet department because they could not attract customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2013 @ 1:23pm

    Re: Until...

    Exactly, well put sir!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Bengie, 22 May 2013 @ 1:43pm

    Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    The issue with tethering is My wife's smart phone browsing the same web pages and watching the same videos will consume 1/10th the data because the viewing experience is targeted towards the device being used.

    My home Internet was out for a week and my wife had to use her data plan for everything. We both made heavy use of her phone for FaceBook, reading the latest news, watching new YouTube posts.

    The data consumption was under 300MB that month. I can blow through that in one night on my computer doing nothing but browsing the web, no Media streaming, no file downloads.

    That is mostly because of ads. I now use ad-block for Chrome for other reasons, such as CPU usage, but at the time, I did not have that addon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    JackieTreehorn, 22 May 2013 @ 1:56pm

    But Hangouts isn't preloaded???

    Hangouts is replacing Google Talk, it's not actually installed by default on my phone. Case in point: I have a Galaxy Nexus with Google Talk on it, and Hangouts waiting as a downloadable update in the Play store. How can Hangouts be considered pre loaded when it quite clearly isn't the same app that came on my phone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2013 @ 2:41pm

    Their loss

    I nearly purchased a Galaxy S4 through AT&T, but after hearing this news I decided firmly against it and will go with a different provider.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    PRMan, 22 May 2013 @ 2:54pm

    Re: Their loss

    Sprint has unlimited everything and doesn't play these sorts of games...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    DannyB (profile), 22 May 2013 @ 2:56pm

    Re: Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    That's what I did.

    I used my own means to tether like there was no tomorrow and never heard diddly squat from AT&T. I didn't exceed my plan limit on data. In fact, I never usually even come close -- including when tethering.

    Unfortunately, most people cannot just "use their own means" to implement tethering to a custom app.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    DannyB (profile), 22 May 2013 @ 2:59pm

    Re: Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    You miss the point complete.

    Going over your data plan limit is entirely unrelated to whether you can use your data for your phone or your laptop. You can do one without the other.

    I used it a lot on my laptop and never went over my cap. Never came close.

    Aren't the carriers supposed to warn you when you are getting close to your limit anyway? Didn't the FCC require this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2013 @ 4:18pm

    Everyone who gets a phone on contract is supporting this

    I NEVER buy contract phones and I always use monthly services. No problem. This is a children's problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    kyra (profile), 22 May 2013 @ 8:11pm

    Actually, I recently upgraded my AT&T phone, and kept my grandfathered unlimited plan. They even switched me from the 3G unlimited to their 4g lte one. They also let me downgrade my contract and drop and block texting.

    I'm not really happy w/ them, but they are the only nationwide carrier to service most of my famil's rural farm land.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Josef Anvil (profile), 23 May 2013 @ 12:22am

    Unlimited Talk

    This is why they are full of shit. They offer unlimited talk on a plan with a data cap.

    Newsflash. They run an IP network. Translation: voice, video, and data are ALL broken down into packets and transmitted across the network. So why is voice unlimited unless you use a chat app?

    Because they have learned that the sheep will accept a data cap because data appears to be different to the user. Nope it's all data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Shon Gale (profile), 23 May 2013 @ 5:50am

    People still buy AT&T? Stupid!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    RyanNerd (profile), 23 May 2013 @ 6:04am

    Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    This is one of the best analogies I've ever read.
    You are my new hero.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Greggore, 23 May 2013 @ 6:35am


    Using BBM is not blocked by AT&T. Full video chat and conferencing included.

    Monopolies are never good for anyone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Bob, 23 May 2013 @ 8:14am

    75 million customers? That 75 million simultaneous lawsuits

    You signed away your right to class action lawsuits against at$t.

    There seem to be a lot of good minds around here. Surely a kick starter campaign could be set up. Flood the courts with 750 million individual suites. Setup the paperwork to where you sign your name, send it to court.
    Even if only ten percent completed their cases...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    kitsune361, 23 May 2013 @ 8:49am

    Re: Unlimited Talk

    What's funnier is how we've been paying a premium for SMS messaging all these years. Newsflash, those SMS messages are typically piggybacked on existing "heartbeat" transmissions to the cell towers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 23 May 2013 @ 9:40am

    Re: It's like Tethering all over again

    It's not like tethering at all.

    They charged more for tethering, but they also blocked it, fought against it, and the OS and firmware installed made tethering apps hard to install, and only available to moderately skilled hackers.

    In this case, they're just saying "You wanna stream video, you download the app."

    If tethering had been that easy, there would never have been any tethering controversy at all.

    PS: Their tethering stills sucks *even* when you pay for it. They put a complicated app on the phone to manage tethering, and it checks with the network to ensure that you have paid for tethering, then it pops up several useless warnings like "Tethering will turn on your Wi-Fi. Yes, no?" then it turns finally tethers. Probably about 15 seconds delay for what should be 2. That inserts complexity and delay. I'd rather use hacks, even though I paid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 23 May 2013 @ 9:47am

    Re: Unlimited Talk

    Voice is "unlimited" by some carriers because it is inherently limited.

    A cellular voice line, connected and left on for 24 hours a day and one month, would use in the neighborhood of 3-4 GB of data. It cannot possibly use more, and most likely will use much, much less.

    OTOH, a mobile data user is able to transceive tremendous amounts of data, not limited by the fact that the codec is 8-16 Kbps. And the more a carrier upgrades the network and the phone, the more data each subscriber can move.

    Voice is just data. But data is not just voice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    Derek Kerton (profile), 23 May 2013 @ 9:57am

    Not As Bad As You Make It Out

    Sorry, Tim, but I don't agree on this one. Sure, AT&T and most carriers operate like sociopaths, and try to extract as much profit from each user as they can, however, trying to paint this latest move as evil doesn't stick.

    OK, so it's annoying that their bundled apps are limited. But so long as they let people download and install other apps that are not limited, that's still a neutral network.

    We all know they want you to pay for the bigger data packages, then use as little as possible. That's good biz for them. So they bundle video apps that are crippled. Why would you expect you to offer "weapons" to forces that are not their allies? Do you think they are the CIA?

    No surprise they do what they do. And no real scandal to talk about, since the fix is as easy as downloading a better option. I think that non-deletable bloatware in general is a bigger issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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