Public interest groups on Tuesday said they will file a complaint against AT&T for blocking certain customers from using Apple’s FaceTime video app over the mobile network, a practice that may violate rules on Internet access.

In a release, Free Press and Public Knowledge said AT&T’s decision to allow customers with shared data plans to use the FaceTime service over its mobile network, but not to allow customers still on older, unlimited packages, violates so-called net neutrality rules.

The Federal Communications Commission rules mandate that wireless networks must allow customers to access competing voice or video calling service on their networks. AT&T has argued that the service is still offered over Wi-Fi networks, which should be enough for customers.

The issue arose with Apple’s introduction of a software upgrade to its iPhone and iPad, which would let FaceTime run on cellular networks, not just through Wi-Fi hotspots.

“AT&T’s decision to block FaceTime unless a customer pays for voice and text minutes she doesn’t need is a clear violation of the FCC’s Open Internet rules,” said Free Pres policy director Matt Wood. “AT&T’s actions are incredibly harmful to all of its customers, including the deaf, immigrant families and others with relatives overseas, who depend on mobile video apps to communicate with friends and family.”

The complaint, expected to be filed in 10 days, comes as the FCC struggles to uphold its controversial 2010 Internet access rules. Verizon Wireless is among companies suing the agency in a federal appeals court to overturn the rules.

Last week, the FCC filed comments to the court arguing that it has the authority to regulate Internet access providers and that its net neutrality rules will help online businesses and broadband networks thrive.


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