This morning the folks at AT&T have made it clear that they will indeed be blocking Apple's FaceTime usage over their 3G network unless users switch to their new data plan, and have defended this move with a reiteration of an FCC rule on the subject. The FCC has a rule in place that keeps carriers from blocking applications that compete with their own - but because AT&T does not have an application that competes with FaceTime, they've made it clear that they feel justified in this situation. AT&T representative Bob Quinn spoke up today with assurances that criticism of this move by the carrier is nothing more than a "knee jerk reaction" on the part of users.
Since AT&T does not have a "similar preloaded video chat app" that would make the FCC look twice at their blocking of Apple's FaceTime, they're attempting to make users sign up for their new shared data plan structure. This applies to people using the iPhone, for example, with a grandfathered data plan attempting to work with FaceTime over 3G. AT&T's move is perfectly legitimate, says Quinn.
"The FCC's net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones. Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps. Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete without voice or video telephony services." - Quinn
He added that FaceTime does of course still work over Wi-fi, but are indeed "subject to some reasonable restrictions." All pre-loaded video chat applications that have appeared on phones carried by AT&T have always been restricted to Wi-fi. AT&T's new shared data plan is as follows, for those of you not familiar with the change that occurred several weeks ago.
With the rise of the new iPhone (aka the iPhone 5, if you prefer), we'll be seeing the operating system iOS 6 which allows FaceTime over 3G. Quinn noted that once that operating system is in place, AT&T will be in "learning mode" in seeing how the app will affect their 3G network. In other words, plans may change again!