Yesterday Wired.com reported that Free Press and other advocacy groups have raised concerns that AT&T is charging consumers to access an application that allows video conversations between users of Apple devices. The application is called Face Time and was developed by Apple, Inc. The application currently works over WiFi networks. Free Press believes that the requirement that consumers pay AT&T a fee for accessing Face Time almost certainly violates the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules.
So does a pricing model requiring that consumers of AT&T wireless services pay a fee in order to access a communications application violate the net neutrality rules? I do not believe the pricing model creates a violation.
Under the FCC’s net neutrality rules, mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services. Network management practices are reasonable if they are appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate management purpose.
The order does not address any prohibitions on the type of pricing models a carrier may use for its wireless services, including access to mobile applications. While the order does discuss the impact of unreasonable charges assessed to edge providers, it makes no explicit or implicit prohibition on the pricing model being implemented by AT&T.
According to the Wired.com article, Verizon does not assess a fee for access to Face Time. The obvious free market solution for consumers who do not wish to pay to access Face Time would be to switch to another carrier should their decision model conclude that such a switch is worth the cost.
Should the assertions by Free Press escalate to a formal complaint, I believe that the FCC will find that differences in each company’s network will justify differences in pricing models. Also, the FCC may find that extending rules to cover prices charged to wireless customers in an industry that the FCC has not determined to be non-competitive will be an unreasonable reach.