Wednesday, November 22, 2017

NetNeutrality vs. limiting FaceTime

People keep retweeting this ACLU graphic in regards to NetNeutrality. In this post, I debunk the fourth item. In previous posts [1] [2] I debunk other items.

But here's the thing: the FCC allowed these restrictions, despite the FCC's "Open Internet" order forbidding such things. In other words, despite the graphic's claims it "happened without net neutrality rules", the opposite is true, it happened with net neutrality rules.

The FCC explains why they allowed it in their own case study on the matter. The short version is this: AT&T's network couldn't handle the traffic, so it was appropriate to restrict it until some time in the future (the LTE rollout) until it could. The issue wasn't that AT&T was restricting FaceTime in favor of its own video-calling service (it didn't have one), but it was instead an issue of "bandwidth management".

When Apple released FaceTime, they themselves restricted it's use to WiFi, preventing its use on cell phone networks. That's because Apple recognized mobile networks couldn't handle it.

When Apple flipped the switch and allowed it's use on mobile networks, because mobile networks had gotten faster, they clearly said "carrier restrictions may apply". In other words, it said "carriers may restrict FaceTime with our blessing if they can't handle the load".

When Tim Wu wrote his paper defining "NetNeutrality" in 2003, he anticipated just this scenario. He wrote:
"The goal of bandwidth management is, at a general level, aligned with network neutrality."
He doesn't give "bandwidth management" a completely free pass. He mentions the issue frequently in his paper with a less favorable description, such as here:
Similarly, while managing bandwidth is a laudable goal, its achievement through restricting certain application types is an unfortunate solution. The result is obviously a selective disadvantage for certain application markets. The less restrictive means is, as above, the technological management of bandwidth. Application-restrictions should, at best, be a stopgap solution to the problem of competing bandwidth demands. 
And that's what AT&T's FaceTime limiting was: an unfortunate stopgap solution until LTE was more fully deployed, which is fully allowed under Tim Wu's principle of NetNeutrality.

So the ACLU's claim above is fully debunked: such things did happen even with NetNeutrality rules in place, and should happen.

Finally, and this is probably the most important part, AT&T didn't block it in the network. Instead, they blocked the app on the phone. If you jailbroke your phone, you could use FaceTime as you wished. Thus, it's not a "network" neutrality issue because no blocking happened in the network.


J W said...

My issue with their explanation that Facetime was restricted simply because of bandwidth issues ignores the fact that AT&T allowed users on a higher-priced plan to use Facetime over cellular.

So if a customer pays more the physical limitations of limited cellular bandwidth disappear?

PM said...

AT&T started allowing FaceTime on metered plans after they stopped offering unlimited plans. They used it as an incentive to get people to ditch their unlimited plans. Unlimited data is unlimited data. For them to offer data to some users (who pay more) versus others is most certainly a violation of the principals of net neutrality.

Also, I acknowledge the FCC hasn't always supported Net Neutrality. Just because they haven't doesn't mean we shouldn't be fighting for it now.

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