AT&T Wireless Relaxes Its Rules

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As the Federal Communications Commission continues its investigation into Net neutrality, triggered largely in part by Apple's rejection of the Google Voice app from its iPhone App Store, AT&T Wireless made a formal announcement Wednesday that it has changed its policy of not allowing VoIP applications such as Skype over its 3G network.

While the Google Voice decision was made by Apple, the two companies have had an agreement to disallow Voice over IP programs since the iPhone's initial launch. Up until now, these applications were only allowed to function utilizing the Wi-Fi connection of the phone. AT&T's announcement comes just days after VoIP provider Vonage released clients for the iPhone and BlackBerries, allowing access to its network via the smartphones.

Although AT&T said its decision is based on the evaluation of customer expectations, the timing seems very suspect. The FCC already has proposed rules regarding Net neutrality, and AT&T's reversal fits nicely into those rules. The company made it clear that the new policy applies only to the iPhone and only to VoIP applications; the ban on other 3G programs such as Sling Media's SlingPlayer still stands.

Despite the fact that this announcement will surely cause some joy for AT&T's current iPhone users, the tight control it and Apple still have on the device and what it can be used for will likely continue to keep others away. With Google's open-source Android platform making significant headway in the market, AT&T should be wary. While the iPhone is a unique device with a loyal following, its typical user is technologically savvy and may be getting tired of having to play by the companies' rules. Unless more announcements similar to this one are on the way, this could be the first sign that the company's tight hold over its customers is starting to loosen.

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