In some ways, you have to hand it to AT&T. Not only do they do something controversial, but they already have a very firm and slightly condescending response just days later before the backlash has even reached a critical mass. If anything, AT&T is the honey badger of the communications industry. As Bob Quinn on the AT&T Public Policy Blog points out, they can do whatever they want since FaceTime is a preloaded feature:
FaceTime is a video chat application that has been pre-loaded onto every AT&T iPhone since the introduction of iPhone 4. Customers have been using this popular app for several years over Wi-Fi. AT&T does not have a similar preloaded video chat app that competes with FaceTime or any other preloaded video chat application. Nonetheless, in another knee jerk reaction, some groups have rushed to judgment and claimed that AT&T’s plans will violate the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Those arguments are wrong…
…AT&T’s plans for FaceTime will not violate either requirement. Our policies regarding FaceTime will be fully transparent to all consumers, and no one has argued to the contrary. There is no transparency issue here.
Nor is there a blocking issue. The FCC’s net neutrality rules do not regulate the availability to customers of applications that are preloaded on phones. Indeed, the rules do not require that providers make available any preloaded apps. Rather, they address whether customers are able to download apps that compete with our voice or video telephony 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. (I won’t name any of them for fear that I will be accused by these same groups of discriminating in favor of those apps. But just go to your app store on your device and type “video chat.”) Therefore, there is no net neutrality violation.
So, by AT&T’s rules, this means Apple could release a special tethering and FaceTime app and there’s nothing AT&T can do about it. Also, the scarier part of this is that this argument could be used to charge for iMessage—it is built-in.