NEW YORK -- AT&T said on Thursday that it will expand availability of Apple's (AAPL) FaceTime video application to all customers of its usage-based high-speed data services after its limit of the service to certain customers sparked a controversy.
Advocacy groups complained in September when AT&T made FaceTime available on its cellular service only to customers on its data share plans, which allow families or individuals to share a single data allowance with multiple devices.
The FaceTime video-conferencing application started to work on cellular networks in September after Apple made available its latest operating system, iOS 6. Before iOS 6, the service was only usable over Wi-Fi short-range wireless connections, which are often free to use but have a limited coverage range.
AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. mobile provider, said it has now decided to expand the service over the next six to eight weeks to all tiered-data customers, who pay for a set amount of data every month, as long as their device supports Long Term Evolution, its fastest data service.
However, FaceTime will still be blocked for customers on AT&T's unlimited data plan, which includes unlimited data usage for a flat monthly fee. AT&T has been working on phasing out these plans.
Jim Cicconi, its
"To do otherwise might have risked an adverse impact on the services our customers expect -- voice quality in particular -- if usage of FaceTime exceeded expectations," Cicconi said.
Cicconi did not say why the company had changed its policy.
Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, described the decision as "a victory for consumers and for those who know a free and open Internet is vital to sustaining our rapidly expanding mobile technology market."
Advocacy groups Free Press, Public Knowledge and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute warned AT&T notice on Sept 18 that they planned to file a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission unless the company changed its FaceTime policy.
Public Knowledge said that the group would still pursue legal action against AT&T if it doesn't make FaceTime available to all of its customers quickly.
AT&T also said it began rolling out new billing plans designed to allow deaf and hard-of-hearing customers to make use of FaceTime.