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AT&T’s upside-down wireless world

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POSTED October 2, 2012 11:58 p.m.

From electricity to earmuffs, once you buy a product or service from a company, it shouldn’t be any of its business how you choose to use it. Your power company doesn’t say you can’t use the energy-saving features on your new refrigerator unless you buy more electricity. And your grocer doesn’t make you buy an extra loaf of bread if you stop purchasing potato chips.

Then there’s the upside-down world of AT&T — where the company sees nothing wrong with making you buy more of something you don’t want just to use something you do.

The telecom giant just announced that unless its iPhone customers subscribe to one of AT&T’s new, more expensive “mobile share” unlimited text-and-voice plans, the company will cripple the device’s built-in FaceTime app, a popular video-calling application. Previously, FaceTime was available only over Wi-Fi. But when Apple updates its operating system this fall, you’ll be able to make video calls over the mobile network.

Today, an AT&T iPhone customer pays AT&T $70 each month for three gigabytes (3 GB) of data and 450 voice minutes. But to make FaceTime work on a phone, this same customer would have to pay AT&T at least $95 a month for a plan that includes just 1 GB of data, along with unlimited text and voice minutes that she didn’t want or need in the first place.

Put simply, to use your phone to make video calls, which could reduce the amount of voice minutes you need to buy from AT&T, you’ll first need to pay AT&T more money for less data and unlimited voice minutes.

Huh?

AT&T’s latest move isn’t just anti-consumer, it’s also a violation of the open Internet rules the Federal Communications Commission enacted in 2010. The FCC’s rule explicitly says mobile Internet service providers aren’t allowed to “block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services.”

If we had actual competition for mobile phone services in America, AT&T’s decision to charge you more for less would never fly. You could simply take your business elsewhere.

But we don’t have any competition. We have a market dominated by AT&T and Verizon. And it’s only going to get worse, unless policymakers in Washington recognize these companies are ripping off Americans without restraint.

Today, AT&T blocks FaceTime unless you pay its toll. Tomorrow, it will be Skype, Google Voice, or iMessage. And that’s why consumers everywhere must speak out against AT&T’s latest scheme.

You know the story about boiling a frog? If you put it in the pot and slowly turn up the heat, the frog won’t know it’s being cooked. That’s exactly what AT&T’s doing. Only the amphibians in question are its customers.

If you’re one of those customers, look out. The water is starting to bubble.

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