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Tuesday July 17, 2012 3:27 pm

AT&T charging for FaceTime over Cellular is double-dipping consumer robbery


AT&T FaceTime over Cellular

With the release of iOS 6 beta 3 yesterday, a disturbing "feature" was uncovered. Some users on with AT&T iPhones are reporting that, when they attempt to enable FaceTime over Cellular, a prompt pops up that tells the user to contact AT&T in order to enable the feature. Many are assuming that this means that AT&T will be looking to charge a premium for customers to use FaceTime over its data connection, and if that is the case, it is straight up consumer robbery.


Does the move surprise us? Not at all. In fact, when Apple announced FaceTime over Cellular during the WWDC 2012 keynote, we immediately wondered what AT&T would do to shut that down. Remember when Wi-Fi tethering came to iOS 4, and how AT&T took forever to enable the feature, while Verizon had it ready to go immediately?

This is a classic case of double-dipping. AT&T customers already pay for data. If you go over your allotted amount of data, then they charge you more money for your extra usage. It is pretty simple, and standard. So if you happen to use apps that use a lot of data over your 3G connection, you end up paying more. That is totally fine by us, although we still feel that those data plans are a bit expensive in the first place. Still, it is fair. If you use more than your plan allows for, then you pay a premium.

FaceTime should fall into the same category as apps like Skype and Tango. It simply lets you use your data plan to make a video phone call to communicate with someone else. When you use Skype to make a video call over 3G, you are using your data plan for the duration of that conversation. If you go over your plan, you pay more. Same with Tango, which also lets you make one- or two-way video calls over 3G.

The fact is, you don't need to call AT&T to enable Skype or Tango video calls. They just work out of the box--just not as good as they work on Wi-Fi, for obvious reasons. Still, if you want to use them, you are free to do so, and you are free to decide if you'd like to use them enough that you end up paying more at the end of the month if you go over your plan. However, with FaceTime, AT&T seems to want to make certain that customers who want to use this cool feature will pay for it up front. I'd also put money down and say that, even with the FaceTime fee, AT&T will still charge an overage fee in addition if your FaceTime usage puts you over your data cap.

There has been no confirmation from AT&T that this is definitely what they plan on doing, but the error message that pops up on the iPhone when you attempt to enable FaceTime over Cellular wouldn't be there if the company wasn't at least considering charging its customers extra for the data that they already pay for.

For those wondering, when users with Verizon iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S models enable FaceTime over Cellular on their devices running iOS 6 beta 3, there is no such prompt. It just works, as expected. It's bone-headed moves like these, alongside the likelihood that the next iPhone will include LTE, that makes us wonder why anyone would pick AT&T over Verizon Wireless when the next model launches later this fall.

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