Will AT&T Realize How its Decision to Block Mobile FaceTime Impacts the Deaf and Hard of Hearing?
Some of you may have seen an opinion piece I wrote for Wired on AT&T’s decision to block FaceTime over mobile connections unless users agree to pay for an unlimited voice plan. The premise of the article is simple: why can’t I just use the data I pay for? Why is AT&T telling me, and all other deaf and hard of hearing customers, that we have to buy unlimited voice minute plans to use one of the core features of our iPhones and iPads?
The Wired piece has generated plenty of reaction. Most people get why AT&T’s move is nonsensical, but some people think instead of highlighting how AT&T’s policy impacts deaf users like myself, I should simply jailbreak my devices and/or get all my friends and family using other video chat apps.
As I explained in the article:
FaceTime is a seamless, straight-out-of-the-box video calling solution. Members of my wife’s family switched from the Android platform to iOS to use FaceTime because, well, “it just works.” You look up a contact on your iPhone, and there’s the option to make a FaceTime call listed right next to the voice and texting options.
Third-party apps like Skype require installation, set-up and integration and are not “always on” in the same way FaceTime is.
I’m a pretty tech-savvy guy. Of course I know of all the workarounds to AT&T’s silly move to take a core feature of iOS6 and break it unless its customers are willing to pay for unrelated voice service. But when companies who have a stranglehold on the mobile market start doing things like this, it is important to speak out.
Most wireless consumers are locked into long-term contracts, and have other reasons that make switching hard to do. But in this case, even Verizon is requiring all new customers to buy unlimited voice plans just to use their mobile data. In my case, I have an iPad with cellular data that only works on AT&T. For me, switching isn’t even an option.
In the article I also raised the point that even if AT&T changes course and allows deaf users on its TAP plans to access FaceTime, the company’s plans will still hurt deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. Why?
Because the company will still block mobile FaceTime for the people we talk to — our friends and family members who are iPhone users and know ASL, but who are not deaf themselves and thus do not qualify for the TAP plan. The point of having a mobile phone is the ability to be in touch anytime, anywhere — not to have to plan ahead and hope Wi-Fi is available wherever we land.
A larger point here is, what’s next? If wireless carriers are allowed to block a key feature like FaceTime in the name of protecting their old business products from competition, what will they block next? iMessage? GPS? Maps?
Ultimately this issue isn’t about Apple versus Android. It’s not about FaceTime versus Skype. It’s about AT&T’s narrow-minded decision to tell its customers they can’t use the services they paid for. That this blocking negatively impacts deaf and hard of hearing customers is obvious. Hopefully the company and the regulators at the FCC are paying attention. But if you’d like to tell the FCC what you think, go here, enter in “09-191” in the first box, and have at it. You can also sign this 1-click petition from the folks at the consumer advocacy group Free Press.