September 19, 2012
AT&T Inc.'s decision to limit access to Apple Inc.'s FaceTime video-chat application on its wireless network is about to draw the first formal complaint under the federal government's Internet antidiscrimination rules.
A collection of public-interest groups formally notified AT&T Tuesday that they plan to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission within the next two weeks. They allege that the wireless- service giant violated the FCC's "Open Internet" rules, which are designed to prevent Internet providers from deliberately blocking or slowing Internet services or applications. "AT&T's decision to block mobile FaceTime on many data plans is a direct contradiction of the commission's Open Internet rules for mobile providers," said Sarah Morris, policy counsel for the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, in a statement.
AT&T didn't have an immediate comment. In a blog post last month, the company denied it had violated the FCC's rules, and said it had been transparent about its plans to limit access to FaceTime to some customers. The FaceTime app, which comes preloaded on Apple's newer iPhones, uses an Internet connection to link users in a video chat, which takes up more bandwidth than ordinary voice calls. That has been a concern for AT&T, which has struggled to cope with subscribers' data demands in larger cities. In addition, customers using FaceTime don't rack up minutes on their cellphone voice-service plans.
AT&T argues that the FCC's rules "do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones," like the FaceTime app. AT&T said customers are free to download and use rival phone or video-chat applications on AT&T's network. Public-interest groups mostly cheered when the FCC approved the Open Internet rules in late 2010, saying they were necessary to ensure Internet providers didn't discriminate against rivals or harm consumers. However, there have been few complaints of actual discrimination, and those that have arisen mostly involved access to mobile Internet services, which enjoy fewer protections under the FCC's rules.
It remains unclear whether the rules will survive. A challenge in federal appeals court is progressing slowly, with a decision not expected until next year. Last month, AT&T loosened restrictions on FaceTime for certain customers. Those who upgrade to the newest iPhone or upgrade their operating system to iOS 6 will be able to use FaceTime over AT&T's wireless network, provided they have signed up for data plans that charge extra for heavy data use. Those who have older iPhones or unlimited data plans would continue to be limited to using FaceTime on Wi-Fi, not on the AT&T wireless network. An FCC spokesman had no comment on the public-interest groups' plans. Wall Street Journal
The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers named its board of directors for the 2012-2014 term, which includes executives from Time Warner Cable (Comcast (CableLabs and CommsScope.
SCTE said Monday that Time Warner Cable EVP and CTO Mike LaJoie, who is a current board member, was reappointed as a director. The board includes four news appointees: CableLabs CTO Ralph Brown, Time Warner Cable group VP and chief learning officer Pat Crull, CommScope SVP of global broadband sales Jim Hughes and Comcast SVP and chief learning officer Martha Soehren.
In addition to the five directors appointed by SCTE, the group named eight regional directors that were elected for one-year terms. Those directors are Midcontinent Communications lead engineer David Haigh, Mediacom Communications director of area operations Tommy Hill, Armstrong Cable Services senior engineer Roger Hughes, Buckeye Cablevision EVP and CTO Joe Jensen, Suddenlink VP of technical operations Bob Legg, Comcast Cable VP of engineering and operations Ed Marchetti, Charter manager of network operations Nick Segura and Times Fiber Communications / Amphenol Midwestern sales account manager Rick Sullivan. FierceCable
Google, Amazon.com, eBay, Facebook and other Internet companies have formed a lobbying group called The Internet Association to tackle regulatory and political issues in Washington, D.C., and it is due to kick off on Wednesday. It will lobby on issues such as allocation of visas for engineers and matters of privacy and piracy, said the group's president Michael Beckerman, a former advisor to Fred Upton, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee. Other members include Expedia, LinkedIn, Monster Worldwide, Yahoo! and Zynga.
Formation of the group marks a stronger alliance of Internet companies as they try to influence regulations pertaining to revenue repatriation, cyber security, and sales tax. "It is the Internet's decentralized and open model that has unleashed unprecedented entrepreneurialism," said Beckerman. "Policymakers must understand that the preservation of that freedom is essential to the vitality of the Internet itself and the resulting economic prosperity."
Google and Facebook are among the companies that have been steadily ramping up spending on lobbying the federal government. Older tech companies, like Microsoft, have long been active in Washington. Google, which is being investigated by antitrust regulators in the United States and Europe, has lobbied officials at the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce, according to disclosure forms.
Facebook has lobbied regarding online privacy and immigration reform while also talking to lawmakers and their staffs about matters concerning initial public offerings. In May, Facebook became the first U.S. company to go public with a market valuation above $100 billion. Its market debut was marred by technological problems on the NASDAQ exchange and criticism that the IPO was priced too high. Reuters
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