AT&T to customers: Net neutrality is whatever we say it is

Wireless giant says it can do whatever it pleases with preloaded apps, Net neutrality and ticked-off customers be damned

It appears that, like the pigs in Orwell's "Animal Farm," some AT&T customers are more equal than others.

Today's complaint? AT&T is allowing some of its iPhone-wielding customers to use Apple's FaceTime video chat over its wireless voice network, but not others. Specifically, users of newer shared data plans can FaceTime to their heart and wallet's content via the cellular network, while those on older and cheaper data plans are forced to remain in a Wi-Fi ghetto when FaceTiming with their iPhone and iPad buddies.

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Off the Record submissions

AT&T's reason for doing this, of course: To get iPhoners to pony up for the more expensive plan when Apple unveils its newest Jesus phone next month (assuming the InterWebs rumor mill has pegged that one right). But in doing that, AT&T is violating the FCC's Net neutrality rules, says consumer watchdog group Public Knowledge, because it is blocking access to an app that competes with its own product offerings.

So far, it sounds like yet another obscure skirmish between the Apple-obsessed -- nothing to see here, please move along. It's AT&T's response to these charges that's getting under people's skin. AT&T Chief Privacy Officer Bob Quinn wrote a blog post claiming the FCC's rules only apply to apps available for download, not those preloaded on the phones (I am not an attorney, but that sounds like a somewhat dubious argument even to me) and that people who are unhappy about that should take a long stroll off a short pier (I'm paraphrasing here).

In a blog post titled "AT&T is angry and not afraid to show it," Mashable's Peter Pachal described Quinn's response as "borderline condescending." But the commenters on Quinn's post were somewhat less kind. Here's a smattering of the nicer ones:

  • "This is the most unprofessional public statement I have ever read."
  • "Thanks for the clarification, Bob. It sounds like we need to redo the Net neutrality requirements to make them truly neutral."
  • "Again, AT&T showing just how little it cares about its customers."
  • "This is total BS. Data is data. When I pay for 3G of data, who cares how I use it? If I go over, that's my problem, but to tell me that I have to switch to a more expensive plan just to use it is wrong."
  • "Dear AT&T:  This statement of policy is awesome, fair, and welcome. I don't see what anyone's complaining about. Sincerely, a Verizon customer."

They went on -- 156 comments as I write this, all just like those. The lesson here? Allowing your executives to vent via unvetted blog posts is a bit like putting out a forest fire using Napalm.

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