As part of many announcements at Google's I/O Conference this week, Google announced that they would now be integrating video chat within Google Hangouts
across platforms and devices. Well, unless you use AT&T. AT&T's LTE network is being hailed as the fastest LTE network currently available
, yet Slash Gear
is the first to report that when users try to make a video chat call on the AT&T network using Google's new Hangout upgrade, they're told "you must be on a Wi-Fi network to join a video call."
AT&T's blockade is a mirror image of the fracas AT&T caused when they decided to arbitrarily block Apple's Factime
last year. AT&T offered a few nonsensical excuses, but it soon became clear that by only blocking unlimited users from using the functionality, their goal was to drive customers on grandfathered unlimited plans to their new, more expensive metered plans. Consumer groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge filed complaints, the FCC promised action
, and...nothing happened.
Fast forward to this week, when AT&T decided it would be a good idea to make the same mistake all over again. The company issued a very AT&T-like statement to the press this afternoon that doesn't actually explain anything, but tries to suggest this is all somehow the OS and device makers faults:
All AT&T Mobility customers can use any video chat app over cellular that is not pre-loaded on their device, but which they download from the Internet. For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we offer all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share, Tiered and soon Unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices. It’s up to each OS and device makers to enable their systems to allow pre-loaded video chat apps to work over cellular for our customers on those plans
That "not preloaded" language is important, since AT&T is previously on record stating
they believe that current wireless network neutrality rules don't cover situations where an application comes pre-loaded on a device. You could argue that Hangout technically isn't pre-loaded because you have to download it via the Google Play store, but at this point it seems like AT&T is simply making things up while they wait for the FCC's neutrality rules to be overturned
In the end, AT&T is abusing their role as network gatekeeper and blocking app functionality to force unlimited users on to costlier tiered plans. Not unlike the way Verizon Wireless is blocking Google Wallet
for the benefit of their own ISIS mobile payment platforms. In both instances companies are fending off net neutrality violation accusations using faux-technical justifications for anti-competitive behavior. Given such obvious flaunting of the rules, surely the FCC will step in to protect consumers any second now, right?