Jan. 16, 2013 at 9:02 PM ET
When Apple's FaceTime was made available to iPhone users on AT&T, the carrier only allowed the video-chatting service to be used over Wi-Fi, severely reducing its usefulness. After opening it up to 4G users late last year, they're now letting 3G, tiered-data customers have FaceTime as well — but a few are still left out in the cold.
The company has always claimed that restricting FaceTime, Apple's video chat program, over cellular was necessary to keep its network fast and uncongested.
Originally, last August, AT&T attempted to limit FaceTime to customers who had switched from old "unlimited" plans to newer, often more expensive "tiered" plans. Customers complained, and their complaints reached the ears of the FCC. By November, AT&T had relented, and the service was opened to anyone who had a 4G LTE-capable device.
Today, a post on AT&T's Consumer Blog explained that upcoming updates would bring FaceTime to 3G devices as well — as long as users with those devices are on a tiered-data plan, not a grandfathered-in, unlimited plan.
Free Press, an advocacy group that has been pushing AT&T about this issue since the beginning, says it will continue with its complaints to the FCC if necessary. In a blog post, policy director, Matt Wood says in a statement that:
As we've made clear all along, the company has no right to block the application in the first place. Until AT&T makes FaceTime available to all of its customers, it is still in violation of the law and the broader principles of Net Neutrality.
And indeed, it seems that if the millions of tiered data subscribers can use the system, adding the comparatively few remaining unlimited subscribers shouldn't stress the network too much.
Yet AT&T has certainly taken steps in the direction of letting everyone on its network use FaceTime (and, by extension, other and future data-heavy apps) anywhere and at any time. Whether consumer groups will have to stay involved remains to be seen.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBCNews Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.