back to article AT&T defends FaceTime price gouge

AT&T has been busy defending its decision to ban FaceTime video chat from its 3G and 4G networks, unless punters shell out additional cash, to the sound of an incensed blogosphere screaming "net neutrality". In a blog wittering AT&T’s "Senior Vice President-Federal Regulatory and Chief Privacy Officer" Bob Quinn defends the …

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  1. Pete 2

    The joys of capitalism

    This sounds like one of those "only in america" stories. People are free to buy whatever they please and to take advantage of competition between vendors to get the best deal, as there is supposedly a free market. However, the flip-side is that companies are equally allowed to charge whatever the market will bear (provided they don't collude with each other).

    The problem with capitalism is that people can't pick and choose which bits of the principle they would like - as the bits consumers don't want are exactly what attracts the vendors into the game. After all, isn't that what makes america grate?

    1. LarsG
      Meh

      It's all in the small print of nearly every contract you sign...

      Section 108.9 (C5)

      Subsection 24.2i (2)

      Paragraph 345.9 (z)

      Sub paragraph 23 (a)

      Which states

      'whatever we promise to deliver we can change at any time, now or forever in the future, and that if you feel you are being butt-fuc**d you probably are, but there is nothing you can do about it. So cough up the cash or f**k off, unless you are tied into our 3 year contract in which case we've got your ar*se and you are my bi*ch.'

    2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: The joys of capitalism

      This really isn't a bad thing.

      Facetime as an app over a wireless network takes up a lot of bandwidth.

      Try living in a city like Chicago where during the evening rush hour you either get a call failed to dial, or you get a dropped call because of the additional traffic in the area.

      Add facetime and other bandwidth sucking apps, and you end up with people trying to make a simple cell call getting dropped.

      Maybe after AT&T and others upgrade their infrastructure will it make sense to offer better data plans.

      If you want to use Facetime, pop in to Starbucks and use their free wi-fi.

      I may get down voted, but until the corporate company feels the suck as customers walk away, they won't upgrade their networks. And don't get me started on the rural tax we pay and the phone companies still don't upgrade their services like they are legally bound to do.

      1. The Original Steve

        Re: The joys of capitalism

        Hmmm - I'm not expert, and I know nothing of Facetime, but shirley the Facetime call is treated as data....? In which case why would you have a problem making a normal voice call over the same mast, regardless of how much data is being fed through it?

      2. DeepS
        WTF?

        Re: The joys of capitalism

        "Facetime as an app over a wireless network takes up a lot of bandwidth"

        Bandwidth the customer is already paying for. AT&T is double dipping.

        1. Rampant Spaniel

          Re: The joys of capitalism

          Can at&t please clarify how 1GB of facetime call is any different from 1GB of netflix streaming? Is one a metric GB and the other imperial?

          When I buy a fixed amount of data, unless they have a very valid technical or legal reason, that data is mine to do with as I please. Failing that, verizon, sprint and tmob are happy to take my money.

      3. Thomas Wolf

        Re: The joys of capitalism

        Yes, FaceTime takes up a log of bandwidth. But the customer is *paying* for that bandwidth already - shouldn't they be free to decide how they consume it? Also, I think AT&T *is* discriminating here - I believe they allow other video chat services on their cellular network (I heard Skype works fine over 3g).

        I think AT&T's arguments are feeble at best. What I really think is going on here is:

        - AT&T wants to get people on its more expensive "shared" plan. Instead of making the plan more attractive and feature rich, they go the easy route - make the old plan less attractive by raising artificial barriers like this. They've already done that with their bandwidth limits: even if you're on an "unlimited" plan, if you start consuming more than 2-3GB, your connection will be made so slow as to be unbearable.

        - AT&T doesn't want competition with its voice service. People who chat via FaceTime, use less minutes on their voice network. That's probably another reason they only allow it on the "shared" plan - where you're already paying for "unlimited voice" (whether you need it or not) and they don't have to care about you not paying.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The joys of capitalism

        02 ban it on their 3G network.

        I pay for bandwidth. If I want to stream inane YouTube videos and eat it up, I get a text message telling me so and the chance to pay 02 more money to buy more.

        When 02's network is capable of handling the traffic (they were the original iPhone exclusive carrier), they should treat this in exactly the same way.

        AT&T, nor any carrier, should be able to price based on which app uses the data, rather they should charge for the data you use.

        1. Chad H.

          Re: The joys of capitalism

          I'm sorry sir, you can't have any water for drinking. Yes I know we said unlimited water, you have unlimited water, as long as you want to use it for bathing and washing things? Why? because some people might drink too much.

          1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

            Re: The joys of capitalism

            I'm sorry sir, you can't have any water for drinking. Yes I know we said unlimited water, you have unlimited water, as long as you want to use it for bathing and washing things? Why? because some people might drink too much.

            To be fair, it's more like having unlimited water provided you don't try to fill any swimming pools. That's said the network operators have to get used to the fact that people now have swimming pools and figure the required usage into their network provision and hence into the plans they offer.

            1. Rampant Spaniel

              Re: The joys of capitalism

              Or how about, we install a water meter, but charge you an extra fee on top of the per pint charge if you want to fill a swimming pool.

    3. beep54
      Devil

      Re: The joys of capitalism

      ....and you can get it in any color you want so long as it is black.

  2. Arrrggghh-otron
    Headmaster

    grate?

    Yes, yes it does...

  3. Mr Shaw

    Compare this to Utility companies

    Imagine if Utility companies were allowed to get away with this kind of behaviour.

    "That will be 10p / KWh please. Unless you want to use your TV and then we will charge you double."

    1. Andy ORourke
      Joke

      Re: Compare this to Utility companies

      Lets just hope no one from a utility company gets to hear about this........

    2. esharpmajor

      Re: Compare this to Utility companies

      Actually they do (at least in the antipodes). It's called ripple control "we'll charge you half price for some of your electricity, IF it's a hot water heater or storage heater AND we get to control when it turns on and off".

      1. sabba
        Holmes

        Re: Compare this to Utility companies

        Is ripple charging like the off-peak system here in the UK whereby you ostensibly have two metres installed? One is responsible for off-peak electricity and this controls things like storage heaters etc that can charge up during the quiet hours overnight and then discharge during the day; the other looks after 'normal' devices whose usage needs to be on-demand - water heaters; TVs; irons; central heating; jacuzzis etc

        If it;s not I am keen to understand how they know the device is a water or storage heater? Perhaps I just have a really shit, old TV!!

  4. 1924MG
    Go

    Lovefilm not so bad

    I've only had trouble with Lovefilm streaming once and I'm now at the back end of 24 series 2. Kim Bauer is dumber than I remember.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lovefilm not so bad

      That's nice, but WTF has that to do with Facetime?

    2. HP Cynic

      Re: Lovefilm not so bad

      I believe Series 2 is where her stupidity is abundantly demonstrated which makes an element of Series 3 and beyond all the more grating.

      1. g e
        Facepalm

        Re: Lovefilm not so bad

        Kim Bauer is the dumb daughter yes?

        Jack would have been so better off to have said 'Look, whatever you do, you absolutely MUST NOT single handedly defeat the terrorists and bring them all to justice. ABSOLUTELY, do you understand?

        Then she'd have fixed everything by the following episode with bad guys clapped in irons.

        1. Jediben
          WTF?

          Re: Lovefilm not so bad

          Wait, you guys watch the bits with Kim Bauer in them for the STORY?

  5. Big_Ted
    Thumb Up

    I for one welcome this sort of thing. If this is to be included into all tariffs then the app itself should be net and device neutral, ie Facetime should also be made available to android and windows etc.

    As long as its an Apple only product then I see no need to support it. As has been said in the article skype etc all are available so its not video calls that are being blocked only an inefficient app from a closed ecosystem.

    1. AndyS

      Except that from the network's point of view, it is simply data. So to try and charge more for some data than other data is wrong.

      As a commenter above said, this is like charging twice as much for electricity you want to use to watch your TV with - there's simply no justification.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        "Except that it's just data"

        ..And Niagra Falls is just water. There is a matter of scale. Trying to pump the Nile through a hosepipe will have problems, and let's face it: AT&T's network is about the same quality as a hosepipe.

        FaceTime uses some *very* inefficient protocols which means that it uses a lot more data than it really needs to. That combined with its popularity can cause issues a la the Nile via hosepipe.

        If AT&T promised to use 100% of the "FaceTime Fee" to upgrade their network so that it would not be at risk from large data usage, I think almost everyone could get behind it.

    2. dboy

      You are just letting your anti apple perspective run away with you. The consumers pay for data, the provider sells that access, but decides it can apply a tax on a particular service (which it doesn't provide itself).

      Well that fine until they decide to do the same thing to skype... and the next service (iplayer anyone) and then the next, until the provider is taxing all of the added value things you want to do.

      It's crap, and I hope Apple fights AT&T on it, the principle is important, not your dislike of apple.

      1. g e

        Isn't it more like

        You want to use facetime? So you agree you're a disproportionately data intensive user which drives up resource contention for our other users. Therefore, being a greater-than-average burden on our infrastructure we're requiring you pay a higher tariff.

        A possibly more sensible option would be to limit facetime minutes on the standard tariff to what the internal profile of an 'average user' is and allow a tariff upgrade for heavier users, though that itself means a certain degree of network management which if not already present (and linked to customer accounts) is quite an overhead to implement on that scale vs a blocked/not-blocked policy with associated tariffs.

        1. Tom 35 Silver badge

          Re: Isn't it more like

          No you should not limit facetime and then charge extra for it.

          It's just data, if the tariff is "unlimited but we don't want you to use too much" then the tariff is the problem.

          Supply a fixed amount of data then charge a reasonable amount for extra data, that way you don't care if they use loads of data because they paid for it.

          But the phone companies don't do that, they want to force you onto the most expensive tariff by charging a stupid amount for going over your fixed limit. Better get the limited Unlimited plan just in case...

        2. Peter H. Coffin

          Re: Isn't it more like

          The issue is that AT&T already has various means of capping data, and applies those. So the amount of data that FaceTime specifically uses isn't really part of the discussion -- that problem is already provided for. That one can use OTHER video call apps to get around the tariff points out clearly that AT&T wants to charge users extra money to use FaceTime because it's FaceTime, not because it's a bandwidth hog, or because it slows down their network or any other reason.

          1. Swarthy Silver badge

            Re: Isn't it more like

            You are right(-ish) AT&T can justify charging more because of the inefficiencies of FaceTime. users will pay more because its FaceTime. At least that's what AT&T are hoping.

      2. beep54
        Happy

        Baggage on an airline

        "I am so sorry, sir! You wish to wear your clothes while flying? That is extra weight and we will have to charge you....Ah good! The no clothing option. Now, about that nudity fine.....

  6. Steve Evans

    So...

    Are they applying this just to Facetime, or are they also including the cross platform industry standard video calling feature Apple chose to ignore (can't have fruity users see the non-fruity weirdos can they!).

  7. Chris007
    FAIL

    As stated previously

    Good luck blocking FaceTime (or anything) for those who know how to VPN

    1. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Re: As stated previously

      Rogers in Canada block VPN... you have to pay extra "because it's more valuable data" even on a business internet stick plan.

      If they can get away with charging extra for something they will.

      1. Chris007

        Re: As stated previously

        Wonder how are they blocking as I've never had any problems with other carriers (in Europe) getting my VPN going.

  8. This post has been deleted by its author

  9. P. Lee Silver badge
    Stop

    Stop pushing this rubbish. Net neut is not a myth

    Its just that the internet is a collection of unequal networks.

    Prioritising "partners'" traffic is a non-beneficial way for a third party to gain control over a network. It adds nothing to overall internet capacity or latency. Its just corporates buying influence.

    Google's caches reduce latency (the content is closer) and reduces congestion (the content travels over fewer internet links) effectively increasing internet capacity and reducing latency.

    Stop peddling the idea that net neut is a myth and (by implication) not worth trying to preserve. Google has a network, it connects to lots of ISPs. That's why we call it the "inter-net."

    AT&T's behaviour is just wrong. How do we know that Samsung didn't have a "co-marketing" fund for AT&T to reduce the functionality of iphones? I don't think they did, but if this sort of practice is legal, you'll get the networks stripping down their functions and then using "partner" companies to provide functions and deny access to over-the-top providers.

    Of course there will be comeback. How long before someone builds asymetric voip into a phone? VOIP is currently hampered by trying to be a full service, probably due to the US mobile networks charging for receiving calls. How about the following: "Oh, I see my home wifi network, I'll route all new outgoing calls over voip and spoof/block my caller id." At the moment voip is clumbsy and having wifi running drains the battery, but if it automatically routed outbound calls over voip and only when you're home you'd have better control over the battery, almost seamless phone integration and no need to keep the wifi radio on for incomming calls. Unlike roaming, I don't see that there's much your mobile telco could do about it. The only downside is if you get in the car and drive off, you'll lose the connection, but your phone could auto-re-dial over the cell network if it loses the wifi link - it already knows the number of the person you're connecting to. Your ISP just bills you any call termination costs while on wifi. You could also do it with long-range bluetooth.

    Then you might see people opening up their home networks. Anyone can connect as long as its ipsec and no more than 64kbps per device. Friends and family "pair" their phones with an openwrt module which gives them access back to their home router for appropriate billing. Perhaps anonymous ipsec connections are allowed up to 64kbp/s device for 5 minutes per device per day, so anyone can get back to their home network. That's fine if you're standing still, which your GPS should be able to detect.

    I think a bloodbath is coming.

  10. ZenCoder

    This should invalidate all contracts.

    Why do companies get to lock you into a contract then unilaterally change the terms?

    Someone needs to rule that these contracts are not really contracts at all and therefore unenforceable.

    I don't have a smart phone, I have a cheap dumb phone and an iPod touch. I have room in my pocket and it saves me a ton of cash and keeps me from being too angry about the one sided nature of mobile contracts.

  11. Nicholas EGF Berry

    I assume 'tortious' was meant to be 'tortuous'.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I thought so too...

      but nevertheless an apt substitution.

  12. Steve Knox
    FAIL

    "network neutrality only applies to competitors"

    Well, that's false to begin with. The principle of network neutrality is that prioritization (or de-) of network traffic should be done solely for reasons of stability and performance. Perhaps the talking head was referring to a specific, poorly-written law rather than the underlying principle?

    1. Vector

      @Steve Knox Re: "network neutrality only applies to competitors"

      Yes, the AT&T VP's blog post was discussing the FCC's net neutrality rules, not the general principal itself.

      ...and the guy is technically correct. AT&T is perfectly free to use these policies to drive their users to other carriers!

  13. George of the Jungle
    Thumb Down

    AT&T are such cunts, though all the US cellular companies are in some way. AT&T just seems to have perfected it into an artform.

    Luckily for me, I don't have to worry about dealing with them as GSM doesn't work at my home. I do own a Nexus One, but it's only used when we are in Europe.

  14. Randy Hudson

    FaceTime doesn't compete?

    Let's see, I can either have a conversation with someone using FaceTime and my data allowance, or I can use AT&T's voice service and call that person directly. What's that, I can't use FaceTime? Looks like I'm forced to use my package minutes as an alternative...

    FaceTime offers the identical service (voice). The fact that it has an additional feature (video, which you can turn off) doesn't change that fact.

  15. Robert Ramsay
    Stop

    Let's be honest...

    ...no-one gives a shit about Facetime anyway. When 3 started up, they thought video calling was going to be their killer app. Our survey said - DUTDUUHHH

  16. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    False premise

    AT&T customers are already paying for that bandwidth

    They are almost certainly not paying for bandwidth but total data use and there is a big difference between the two. It's almost impossible to provision bandwidth on shared infrastructure such as mobile networks.

    1. Vector
      FAIL

      Re: False premise

      Tell that to all the download sites that throttle per connection bandwidth...

    2. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: False premise

      but no-one is complaining that facetime is slow or the video is poor quality - its an outright blocking of a particular protocol which (worse) is vendor specific. The whole "network management" argument is to prioritse real-time traffic above everything else. This is the opposite - it kills real-time traffic dead.

      My speculation would be that AT&T went to Apple and said, "give us some cash/bigger margins" Apple said "no" and AT&T said, "Right, we'll start killing your phone's functions until you do."

      How long until they start charging for access to gmail or google calendar? Hey MS, gives us some cash or we'll remove skype from our network.

      Now we might see competition force AT&T to give up the plan or we might see an oligopoly effect where the other networks join in. Once the principle is established (with a small group of users and a non-critical system) it can be rolled out to other more profitable blocks and we'll be back to being charged for each type of data being transmitted over the network, as we currently are for voice and sms and video calling.

      Long-term, I suspect we'll see VPNs on by default which kills all management. What is the likelihood that blocking the IP ranges for VPNs to iCloud is going to be legal?

  17. Julian 3
    Gimp

    Carry On Shafting

    iPhone customers have more money than sense so it quite right to take advantage of them. They will happily cough up and think nothing of it. Carry on shafting!

    1. DougS Silver badge
      FAIL

      Applauding shafting cuz it's Apple

      Why does this remind me of that tale about the guy who didn't protest when they came for the Jews, because he wasn't a Jew, and so on, so there was no one to stand up for him when they came for him?

      Since you hate Apple so much and are proudly proclaiming it on the Reg, I'm going to make the wild assumption you're an Android fan. You may have no sympathy for iPhone users now, but if AT&T can do it to Apple Facetime, they could just as easily do it to Google Maps on Android. It is built in and doesn't compete with AT&T services. If AT&T can do it, so can Verizon. You'd be singing a different tune when they do it to you, but by then this will be an "established industry practice", and it'll be too late to turn back the clock.

      I'm glad the carriers (at least the big ones) gave up on the fantasy of unlimited data, but now that it has been limited, it should be able to be used in any way you want. If you disagree with that fine, but don't sit back and laugh when the guy you hate gets screwed and assuming it will never happen to you, because he's going to laugh at you ten times as loud when it does.

  18. sandholme

    Controlling the bandwidth

    Why don't they control bandwidth instead? They could drop your bandwidth to 128kbps (or whatever) every 3rd second to nobble video applications without affecting voice. As long as the low speed was fast enough so that buffering of Youtube... smoothed out problems it would only affect people needing a high QoS. That way they can claim neutrality whilst hitting badly written apps.

  19. Fazal Majid

    A side effect of legalized mass corruption in DC

    AT&T is one of the biggest lobbies in Washington (some years the biggest). That goes a long way to explain why our venal congresscritters let them get away with stunts like these.

    Contrast this with the Netherlands, that has a functioning democracy. When KPN mulled doing something like this, parliament promptly passed a law banning violations of net neutrality, i.e. monopolistic price discrimination.

  20. MarmiteToast
    WTF?

    People use facetime?

    I thought it was just the gimmick to sell iPhone 4, just like Siri was the gimmick for the 4S.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't look good for AT&T. Apple doesn't like their "cool" stuff knobbled. So I'm sure they will knobble AT&T back.

    You can see why Apple want to kill off the SIM card and network lock. They would make signing up for a mobile network a point and click affair. With a referral fee of course.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Rub

    "

    Billing by applications used, rather than the straight per-bit rate we now have, would give them flexibility to create impenetrable data tariffs, saving money for the most diligent customers prepared to analyse their own usage, while costing the rest of us more - which is rather the point.

    "

    This function, interestingly, is what has inflated the Financial Services take of the GDP

    from it's traditional 3% to the current 12%.

    Fubar (anon cuz I dig the mask)

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's the latest move to get all the iphone people off the old cheap unlimited plans

    Come on, this so obvious. Most Android phone users were all pushed off our $15 unlimited plans years ago, we weren't classed as 'smartphones' even, just feature phones. It's time for the $30 iphone users to be shafted, by disabling this over the regular network and only allowing it on the newest 'shared' data plan, AT&T can increase revenues on millions of customers who will want to try this type of video calling again, since Apple is removing the restriction. The next question should be will Skype offer a version that also works over the carrier network without jail breaking?.

  24. Mectron

    any idiot

    still doing business with the COURT PROVEN whorst cell phone service on the entire planet, deserver it.

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

  26. Terry Cloth
    Facepalm

    Customers are _not_ paying for bandwidth. (readable version)

    They're paying for access to the network and a chance to fight over the bandwidth found there.

    If they were paying for bandwidth, users of bloated-traffic apps would pay their fair share, and presumably the telcos would have incentive to use that money to upgrade the network so they could get more such users. Result: PROFIT!

    As an example of how that works in another arena, I commend you to nearlyfreespeech.net. They charge you $1/GB bandwidth (or less, down to 20 cents for volume users) and 1 cent ($0.01)/MB-month. (I have nothing to do with them, other than being a satisfied customer.)

    I have no idea why most punters want fixed-price plans, because that guarantees you're paying for more than you use. If you're not, they'll bump you up to the next price level.

    [Note to webmaster: I also commend you to LWN.net, which offers only a preview button under the entry field. Once you've previewed, you get a submit button under the preview, but still only the preview button under the comment-entry field. This would prevent idiots like me from posting garbage as I did above, to the relief of all readers.]

  27. IanW

    Meanwhile on the POTS bills...

    BT to introduce surcharges for phone conversations in Spanish, Greek and for people with Irish accents..,

  28. Tom 13

    I may not like AT&T's stance, but they have a point.

    If AT&T owned the app as well as the network, we'd all agree that it would be STUPID for them to limit the app if you didn't buy the higher bandwidth package, but it would be entirely LEGAL for them to do so. It wouldn't be legal for them to block a competitor's app on the same basis. But for now AT&T's stance is legally defensible. Still STUPID, but legally defensible.

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