AT&T blocking iPhone FaceTime on its network is a big blow to Deaf people

Brendan Gramer, who is deaf, writes in Wired News today about how AT&T's recent announcement that it will block FaceTime on its networks affects deaf people, who use FaceTime to converse in sign language.

It’s disappointing that AT&T is standing in the way of innovation that addresses the needs of its deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. Sometimes it takes a while (and some prodding) for technology and technology companies to catch up to and embrace accessibility. In this case the technology is there, but it’s AT&T that’s throwing up the barrier.



  1. Why does this post say “AT&T will block facetime” when that’s not the case at all?

    You guys don’t need to troll for readers.  Boing Boing is one of my favorite sites!

        1. What part of “it will block FaceTime on its networks ” are you missing here?  Do you need it spelled out in full detail?

      1.  And it’s freely available on other networks around the world. In fact, just about all the ‘optional’ iPhone features are automatically included most places. For example in Canada any data plan large enough to bother (500mb/1gb+) automatically includes tethering.

  2. I’m not going to be surprised if this counts as a substantial change to the contract, and get’s everyone out of their contract in time for a nice, network independent, iPhone 5 on Verizon or Sprint.

      1. Things like this tend to qualify as “material changes.” There’s some chit-chat on the internets about taking advantage of this kind of thing.

        1.  Oh, thank you for this thought. I’d been thinking I would have to wait till my contract expired to get away from ATT for this asshat move.

  3. They just want to get ahead and around the ”unlimited’ plan stuff. Controlling bandwidth on portable devices Charging for bandwidth is the what they want and how they plan to raise their prices. Ive had an unlimited plan forever, and I feel this is one of the steps. Its sad, really, and once ATT (which I HATE) had real competition, we will see something happen.

    1. American telco/ISPs provide scarcity in order to keep the price up.  And it wouldn’t be hard for them to degrade service on unlimited plans; they just have to make sure and not get caught.

      1. They just introduce new things that aren’t grandfathered and change the name of the previously-unlimited plan to something like “plus classic” or “standard gold.” Much easier.

  4. The reason we keep seeing these stupid stories is that network access providers (both wired and wireless) consistently sell more bandwidth than they are actually able to provide. Then, when faced with the network congestion they caused by overselling, they regulate the network in ever-more invasive ways. BitTorrent throttling, tethering “plans”, data caps and the massive fees for going over them… all caused by ISPs knowingly selling more bandwidth than they can provide.

  5. Hopefully the HLAA or possibly the ACLU will get involved.  It’s a very touchy subject for sure.  IANAL but I don’t think it’s a violation of the ADA as AT&T is not discriminating against the deaf/hoh.  

    IMHO the deaf/hoh normally get the short end when it comes to cellular technology.  My mother is deaf and I’ve dealt with interference, expensive t-coil adapters and all sorts of other crap for the last 18 or so years.Up until the iPhone 4S, Apple did not comply with the guidelines for being compatible or not interfering with hearing aids as they met the “De Minimis Exception”.

    From : is not M3 or T3 rated as defined under the United States Federal Communication Commission hearing aid compatibility guidelines.

    From :”De Minimis Exception”: Apple qualifies for the FCC’s “de minimis” exception because it did not offer more than two handset models at any point during the reporting period.  Apple offered the iPhone 3G (A1241) from 07/09 – 06/10, but stopped offering this model prior to the introduction of the iPhone 4.  The FCC Hearing Aid Compatibility Status Report Form currently permits manufacturers who answer “no” to the first de minimis exception question to enter technical information for a maximum of two handsets.  However, technical information for the iPhone 3G is available in Apple’s previous status report dated July 15, 2009.

  6. Somebody clue me in here;  I’m a closet Apple fanboi with an iPhone and a MacBook Pro.  And I hate AT&T as much as the next guy (actually, much more).

    But faced with this Facetime bullshit, why not just use Skype?

    1. From the Wired piece:

      Third-party apps like Skype require installation, set-up and integration and are not “always on” in the same way FaceTime is. FaceTime’s Wi-Fi limitation has been its only inconvenience, and has led to many missed calls.

      1. Fine.  Send your friend an iMessage (always on) saying “I’m calling you on Skype in one minute”.   With all the adaptation and creativity that deaf people have to go through in their lives daily, this is NOTHING.   But yes, AT&T does suck in a world-class manner.

  7. AT&T has a relay/teletype service for it’s deaf/hard of hearing customers.  The federal government funds this service.  Golly gee, I wonder why they seem to be discouraging the use of Facetime?

    1.  It’s ironic that this is AT&T that’s doing this.  AT&T is a spin-off of Bell decades ago when it was broken up.  Bell was a pioneer in developing things to help the deaf community.  I remember as a kid going to Bell Labs and playing with the external artificial voice boxes you could hold against your neck to give you a voice if you had none.

    2.  Have you ever seen the teletype relay service machine?  It’s the size of a laptop, only does text, and needs to be plugged into a land line with an attached telephone.  It is not a viable alternative to Facetime, the same way that a moped is not a replacement for a Harley, even if they are both two-wheeled motorized transportation.

  8. The corporate person that is ATT does not care one bit about you or your issues; it only cares about increasing profits.  

  9. Of course, they could use any of the other video-chat options out there. This is actually the first I’ve heard of anone actually using facetime instead of skype – and I recently spent a year on exchange with a small horde of folks with ipods, iphones and macs.

  10. This sounds like a typical move for a U.S. carrier.  They do not like to give away anything that can be charged for, even it it is a feature built in to the phone.

  11. The Blessed Saint Ayn Rand, patron of the one percent,  says we need to punish the blind and deaf harshly for their handicaps, and then kick them while they are down. 

    It’s the only objectively rational thing to do.  It’s righteous!

    If they aren’t challenged, how can they triumph over the evil, pimply forces of collectivism and become rich industrialists with rugged, chiseled features?

    Making them pay extra for things that other people get for free is good for them.

  12. AT&T Sucks! They are going to get tons of people dropping them as soon as the new iPhone gets out. We have someone in the office who is so ready to pay the break contract fee. My girlfriend’s line got dropped last night..just like they have been for the past 4 years.

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