AT&T definitely didn’t win any fans with its initial reaction to Apple’s decision to open up FaceTime video chat services to cellular networks. Originally, the carrier was going to limit FaceTime over cellular access to those on one of its pricey Mobile Share data plans, which prompted a complaint to the FCC from public interest groups. AT&T then responded with statements assuring users with tiered LTE data plans they’d get FaceTime over cellular during a gradual rollout. Now, it seems like the carrier may be making FaceTime available even to users on grandfathered unlimited data plans as the service begins to roll out live, though whether that’s an intentional move remains to be seen.
AT&T’s history with FaceTime over cellular is an ugly one, with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson originally commenting on potential paid services in July in response to rumors about Apple’s planned introduction of the service. At the time, Stephenson raised the possibility that FaceTime cellular access could become a paid add-on. Then news came that while there wouldn’t be an extra charge for those services, they would only be extended to Mobile Share plan subscribers. This was seen by some, including public interest groups like Public Knowledge, as a way for AT&T to circumvent net neutrality regulations while still encouraging customers to have to pay more.
In response to a planned complaint announced by Public Knowledge, Free Press and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute in September, AT&T announced earlier this month that it would also be extending FaceTime over cellular to subscribers on tiered LTE data plans, and to deaf and hard-of-hearing customers on tiered accessibility plans. The public interest groups expressed their continued desire to move forward with the complaint at the time, until all of AT&T data subscribers, regardless of plan, gained access to the service.
MacRumors forum members and people on Twitter are now reporting that AT&T has made cellular FaceTime calling possible on its network, and while activating requires a hard restart, it doesn’t seem to discriminate against users on grandfathered unlimited data plans, which haven’t been included in any of the groups that AT&T has announced will be receiving the feature. Reports are mixed, however, with some users saying it’s just not working, though that could be simply because of a staged, gradual roll-out. This is either a very good sign that AT&T has realized denying service to their customers isn’t going to work in their best interest in the long run, or a case of someone flipping a switch early or not putting sufficient restrictions in place before unblocking FaceTime. Either way, enjoy it while it lasts and let us know if it’s working for you.