AT&T says FaceTime plans do not violate net-neutrality rules

Quinn argued that net-neutrality rules do not cover applications that are preloaded on mobile phones, but ensure that customers can download apps that compete with voice and video calling services.

"AT&T does not restrict customers from downloading any such lawful applications, and there are several video chat apps available in the various app stores serving particular operating systems," he continued. "Therefore, there is no net-neutrality violation."

Advocacy groups Free Press and Public Knowledge sounded the alarm last week when AT&T announced that only customers who sign up for its Mobile Share data plan will be able to use FaceTime over its mobile network, and argued that this would violate net-neutrality rules. The two public interest groups said AT&T's plans to let only one set of data plan subscribers use FaceTime without a Wi-Fi connection were unfair and would hinder competition. 

Apple's latest mobile operating system, iOS 6, will let people use FaceTime over mobile networks when it is released this fall. Right now subscribers can only use the app to make voice calls if they're connected to a Wi-Fi network.

Quinn stressed that AT&T customers will still be able to use FaceTime over Wi-Fi regardless of their data plan. He said AT&T is limiting the app's availability over its cellular network to Mobile Share customers because the data plan was designed specifically to make more data available to subscribers without affecting the quality of its network.

"We are broadening our customers’ ability to use the preloaded version of FaceTime but limiting it in this manner to our newly developed AT&T Mobile Share data plans out of an overriding concern for the impact this expansion may have on our network and the overall customer experience," Quinn wrote.

Free Press isn't buying AT&T's argument, and claims the wireless company is admitting that FaceTime competes with its own voice services.

"The FCC's rules are crystal-clear: AT&T is not permitted to block voice or video telephony applications that compete with its own services. There is simply nothing in the rules about 'preloaded' applications," said S. Derek Turner, research director at Free Press, in a statement. "It is interesting to see AT&T take this tack, as it is tacitly admitting that it is both blocking FaceTime and that it does in fact compete with its own offerings.

"AT&T may think that it has found a loophole in the rules, but this kind of anti-consumer behavior is the exact thing the FCC's rules are designed to prohibit," Turner continued.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on whether the commission was reviewing the claims about AT&T's FaceTime plans violating net-neutrality rules, but said it will continue to monitor compliance with them.

"As the market for mobile applications evolves, the FCC will continue to monitor compliance with our rules, which are key to protecting consumer choice, innovation and investment in broadband networks and broadband-powered content, applications and devices," the spokesman said.

This post was updated at 11:06 a.m. with a comment from the FCC.