AT&T slightly loosens FaceTime restrictions after public backlash

AT&T will soon allow more customers to get some FaceTime

Much has been made of the way AT&T has offered use of FaceTime over its cellular network since the arrival of iOS 6 and the iPhone 5.

Though rival companies like Verizon have let customers use FaceTime without any restrictions, AT&T only opened up the use of non-WiFi FaceTime to customers with a Mobile Share plan.

This drew the ire of several net neutrality organizations, which criticized AT&T for potentially violating several Federal Communications Commission (FCC) guidelines.

At the time, AT&T dismissed the claims as "knee-jerk reactions," but now it appears the mobile carrier is changing its tune, to a degree.

AT&T announced Thursday it will open up FaceTime over its cellular network by the end of the year to those on tiered plans, but only if they have 4G LTE devices.

In other words, only customers with the iPhone 5 and certain iPads can enjoy FaceTime video chatting.

Intent to add more

AT&T Senior Vice President Jim Cicconi took to the company's public policy blog to discuss the upcoming changes to its FaceTime policy.

Cicconi stated the original policy was put in place so AT&T could better measure the impact FaceTime would have on the company's network.

Claiming AT&T has more iPhones than any other network, Cicconi assured the restrictions were put in place to better avoid an "adverse impact on the services our customers expect" such as voice quality.

After listening to the feedback and criticism, AT&T has taken some small steps in reforming its once strict limitations, making the decision to open the feature to some tiered data plan customers as well.

In 8-10 weeks, customers with an LTE-capable iOS device will be able to utilize FaceTime without adopting one of AT&T's Mobile Share plans.

As for other customers, Cicconi stated AT&T would continue to gather data with the intent to offer FaceTime on its other cellular plans in the near future.

Why the change of heart?

While AT&T never explicitly stated why it was finally opening up FaceTime to more customers and plans, The Verge reported it may have something to do with those same public interest groups that spoke out against the move to begin with.

According to the site, Free Press and Public Knowledge, two public interest groups, released statements claiming AT&T's reversal on policy was due to the threat of formal FCC complaints being filed.

Both groups will be holding off on the filing for the time being to allow AT&T to handle the matter on its own.

"The groups will move forward and file their complaint if AT&T fails to make FaceTime available to all of its customers in a timely manner," Free Press said in its statement.

The opening up of the service to LTE is a good start, but the groups are advocating for FaceTime to be made open to all customers, otherwise the complaints will be filed.

"Without that language, we would not have agreeed to not file [with the FCC] eventually," Public Knowledge Senior Staff Attorney John Bergmayer told The Verge.

Bergmayer also stated the groups would be following up with AT&T after the opening of LTE FaceTime service, and will monitor just how long it takes for the function to be made available to all customers.

TechRadar has reached out to AT&T, and will update this story if and when a request for comment is returned.

Via AT&T, The Verge, Free Press