Telecommunications Policy

Thank Goodness We Have Net Neutrality to Save Us From the Threat of People Paying to Video Chat Over Mobile Networks


What does a net neutrality violation actually look like? When advocates of the policy, which restricts the ways that Internet Service Providers (ISP) can prioritize certain types of data over their networks, made their case, they struggled to come up with plausible real-world examples.

In the process of signing off on the rules, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was able to name just four potential violations of the policy from the last 10 years, two of which were serious stretches. The agency admitted that the regulations were "prophylactic" — meant to prevent neutrality violations from occuring in the future despite minimal historical evidence that any problem actually existed. This was one of the primary reasons why I was so skeptical of the rules. What sort of practices would it actually prevent? What harm would occur if the rules were not put in place?

Now we have a potential answer: video chatting over mobile networks! The devoted net neutrality backers at Public Knowledge are warning that when AT&T begins to allow iPhone users access to the video-calling application FaceTime, the company will be violating the FCC's net neutrality rules. The New York Times reports:

When Apple releases its next version of its mobile operating system iOS this fall, iPhone customers will have the option to place FaceTime video calls over the cellular network, whereas before they could do so only on Wi-Fi. On the AT&T network, however, that privilege will be available to customers only on a certain type of data plan, which has raised debate on whether or not the carrier is violating government rules.

AT&T said last week that using FaceTime over its network would be a feature for customers of its shared data plans, not customers who have the older unlimited or tiered data plans. Public Knowledge, a nonprofit group that focuses on Internet law, says that by prohibiting  its other customers from using the video-calling feature on the network, AT&T is violating net-neutrality rules by blocking a service that potentially competes with its own.

…AT&T says it has done nothing wrong, because FaceTime is still available over Wi-Fi.

Public Knowledge lawyer John Bergmayer tells the Times, "There is no technical reason why one data plan should be able to access FaceTime and another not." Even if that is true, there is also no good reason why such a service should not be available only to those who choose to purchase a particular plan that supports the service. 

Imagine the horror: Children video chatting with their grandparents, boyfriends and girlfriends staring wistfully into each others eyes, husbands and wives wrenched apart by great canyons of time and distance able to see their spouse's faces as they discuss the mundane details of bills and home repair options — all without the need to be stay in range of wi-fi connection, at least for those who purchase the right mobile data plan. This is the sort of truly ugly practice that net neutrality was intended to prevent. A civilization that allows a mobile ISP to limit use of a high-bandwidth video calling service to individuals who pay for certain data plans surely cannot stand for long. 

I chronicled the Obama administration's long and quixotic quest for net neutrality regulations in the March 2011 issue of Reason

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  1. This is an outrage! I demand an investigation!

    1. We investigated it and it’s still an outrage.

    1. I quiver before that wise woman’s judgement.

      1. If only she was also a latina. But I guess that’s why she’s not on the Supreme Court (yet).

  2. Um, use a different video chat program?

    1. Chat Roulette for cell phones doesn’t sound like a winner anyway.

  3. ATT is violating net-neutrality rules by blocking a service that potentially competes with its own

    Wait, what? These “rules” aren’t in place, it’s just being discussed, right? So why the present tense?

    1. You wouldn’t ask that question if you didn’t hate grandchildren.

      1. I only hate your grandchildren.

      1. Are they legally binding?

        1. Presumably. They look to be executive regulations that are only subject to a legislative challenge, and Democrats love Net Neutrality, so the rules aren’t going anywhere for a while.

  4. If there is a political issue that more accurately defines “first world problem” than “Net Neutrality” I haven’t heard of it.

    1. “first world non-problem”

      Genetically-engineered horses may one day ride humans! Pass a law now! No horsey! No ridee!

      1. Dude, stay out of my dreams, ok?

        1. I thought those were electric sheep.

          1. I heard somewhere that Joe Pile has a barn full of electric sheep.

            Oh, and this:


            1. Animals might be the most underrated album in the history of recorded music.

          2. I thought those were electric sheep.

            No, he just wants you to get into his car.

      2. horses may one day ride humans

        Someone’s never been to Tijuana.

  5. Anyone who even entertains the idea of supporting government enforced netneutrality is a useful idiot.
    It is the most obvious trojan horse of all time. Actual outcome of net neutrality will be:

    1. Big established players squash competition
    2. Government will MANDATE preferential packet treatment, only it will be theirs not ours.

    1. Exactly. If you are dumb enough to think that it’s better to have the fucking government decide what gets priority over market actors, you are the stupidest mother fucker since life emerged from the sea.

      In a few years our communications systems will hopefully be wireless enough that the monopolies of the telecoms will no longer matter, and then this issue won’t be a problem. Anyone who wants to give the government control of the internet forever just so they can bittorrent to their heart’s content (until the media companies lobby the government to put a stop to it) for a little longer should be punched in the groinal region repeatedly.

      1. This was bound to happen. The Internets is too hot, too overcrowded and starving for resources. Soon, our mobile devices will have no place to call home and will be stacked up in the streets like so much cord-wood, desperate for an electrical outlet to recharge. Eventually, only the very wealthy will have any video calls and we’ll have to fight for the texting scraps.

        The solution staring us all in the face is Soylant Bandwidth. We’re just too stupid to see it.

        1. But Soylent Bandwith isn’t people, right?

          1. SHHH! Ixnay on the eoplepay!

            No, no, it’s just very, very neutral bandwidth.

    2. Don’t forget government enforced “wiretap friendly” networks.

  6. There is no technical reason why one data plan should be able to access FaceTime and another not.

    Of course, there is no technical reason why one data plan should have a higher cap than another. For that matte, there is no technical reason why carriers should restrict access to their networks to paying customers.

    1. hahah shows exactly how these people think.

      No technical reason == no reason. lol

    2. There’s no technical reason why my old Garmin GPS II+ couldn’t read speeds over 99mph, except they were doing what was called “market positioning”. If their low end units could do that, why would you buy the more expensive higher end model? Eventually, they dropped the restriction.

      The finest comment on Net Neutrality on the history of the internet, by the late and lamented, Wind Rider:…..nt_2056448

      1. “late and lamented”?

        1. I miss the Wind Rider. He’s late of HR, and his absence is lamented.

    3. Sure there is, more data imposes higher costs on the provider. There is no real difference between a gig of Facetime and a gig of Youtube or Netflix.

  7. Net Neutrality, the “for teh children” of the Internet.

  8. Wow, this has been exactly what I’ve been arguing (sometimes to a brick wall also known as the average slashdot user).

    If you create a service that’s designed to give you a guaranteed video performance (as an example), it would be illegal under NN rules.

    Got this net neutrality is some serious orwellian shit, and the useful idiot fanboys of the internet are going to bring it to us, giftwrapped!

    1. “If you create a service that’s designed to give you a guaranteed video performance (as an example), it would be illegal under NN rules.”

      I am certain this is the primary intended use of NN rules, to prevent niche players from establishing a customer base against the big players.

      1. Negative. I mean, I should say that in the end, it will be supported by dominant corporate players to shut out new competition from creating new and novel services which specialize in certain traffic.

        But the ugly, orwellian and seriously nefarious purpose of Net Neutrality is to create a Pravda-esque government-controlled media empire.…..-collusion

        1. Negative. I mean, I should say that in the end, it will be supported by dominant corporate players to shut out new competition from creating new and novel services which specialize in certain traffic.

          To be fair, the corporations lined up on fairly predictable lines on the matter. The bandwidth consumers loved it and the bandwidth providers hated it. It was still coporatism at some of its ugliest, but I didn’t see it as you lay it out. At least initially it was, I haven’t checked recently.

          Mostly, it was what we see above, the usual short-sighted, free lunch crowd idiocy. UNLIMITED, FREE BANDWIDTH IS A HUMAN RIIIIIGHT!!!

          1. Sadly, NN means that I can’t get my gaming packets prioritized, because some asshole can’t wait one additional second to see a clown on youtube or some bullshit.

    2. Thanks for trying. I find the average Slashdot user’s dedication to NN puzzling. It seems no amount of arguing about the downside of the rules or even the fact that it’s not, you know, even an actual problem goes anywhere.

      1. Well, most people, not just Slashdot users, jump straight from “this seems like a good principle” to “we must have government rules set in stone enforcing this.”

  9. Who wants to use an app where everyone’s playing with their dick all day anyways?

    1. Everyone who plays with their dick all day.

    2. That’s what the world needs. Dick playing apps.

  10. Almost all the worst imaginable violations of net neutrality the concept are things that haven’t appeared in the marketplace because people hate them. So they’re left with the leavings.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, it’s the government and the FCC that do horrible things to telecommunications in the name of regulations and decency. Even if the general principle of net neutrality is a good one, explain to me why we want the FCC in charge of it?

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