AT&T will offer Apple’s FaceTime iPhone video chat service over LTE networks to mobile customers with tiered data plans, the company announced in a course reversal Wednesday.
Previously, only customers using shared data plans could access the service via wireless data services.
FaceTime capability will be rolled out to AT&T customers on tiered data plans over the next eight to ten weeks, according to a company release. The app will remain Wi-Fi-only for customers on an unlimited plan or with a non-LTE device.
In news likely to be welcomed by the Deaf community, AT&T also said it will allow deaf and hard-of-hearing customers on its tiered Text Accessibility Plans to use FaceTime over mobile networks.
AT&T has previously argued that the old limitation on FaceTime was in place because its wireless infrastructure couldn’t handle iPhone owners across the country using the data-intensive FaceTime. AT&T has more iPhones on its network than any other carrier, perhaps a holdover effect of being the first provider to carry the device.
However, the company offers apps similar to FaceTime that compete with Apple’s software, resulting in widespread criticism and charges of violating Federal Communications Commission regulations. Technology policy advocacy group Free Press has been among the most outspoken voices against AT&T’s previous FaceTime policy.
“AT&T’s course correction is a move in the right direction, but until the company makes FaceTime available to all of its customers it is still in violation of the FCC’s rules and the broader principles of Net Neutrality,” said Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood in a statement delivered following AT&T’s decision.
“AT&T simply can’t justify blocking an app that competes with its voice and texting services unless customers purchase a more expensive monthly plan that includes an unlimited amount of those very same services,” he continued.
Is this decision by AT&T enough or should it open FaceTime to all subscribers on mobile data plans?