AT&T reversed a policy banning Sling Media's mobile video player from using its 3G wireless data network, announcing Thursday that it will allow an "optimized" version of the app to run on the Apple iPhone.
Sling Media, a subsidiary of EchoStar, launched the SlingPlayer Mobile app for iPhones in May 2009 -- but initially, AT&T blocked it from accessing subscribers' Slingboxes over the carrier's notoriously bandwidth-constrained 3G network. As such, the app was limited to access via Wi-Fi connections.
At the time, AT&T said SlingPlayer Mobile "would use large amounts of wireless network capacity, could create congestion and potentially prevent other customers from using the network... Applications like this, which redirect a TV signal to a personal computer, are specifically prohibited under our terms of service."
AT&T has now changed its tune. The telco said Thursday it has been testing the app since mid-December 2009 and recently notified Sling Media and Apple that the app has been approved to run on its 3G network.
"Just as we've worked with Sling Media in this instance, we look forward to collaborating with other developers so that mobile customers can access a wider, more bandwidth-sensitive, and powerful range of applications in the future," Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets, said in a statement.
De la Vega continued, "Collaboration with developers like Sling Media ensures that all apps are optimized for our 3G network to conserve wireless spectrum and reduce the risk that an app will cause such extreme levels of congestion that they disrupt the experience of other wireless customers. Our focus continues to be on delivering the nation's most advanced mobile broadband experience and giving our customers the widest possible array of mobile applications."
John Gilmore, Sling Media senior vice president and general manager, commented, "We're delighted with AT&T's decision to approve the SlingPlayer Mobile app on their 3G network. SlingPlayer Mobile on AT&T's 3G network gives customers the best experience possible for watching their home TV while on the go."
AT&T said it will provide developers with wireless-network optimization requirements for video and other applications by the end of the first quarter, to be available at http://developer.att.com.
Netflix also is developing a streaming-video application for the iPhone, according to an industry executive familiar with its plans, and AT&T's reversal on the SlingPlayer indicates that Netflix's app also could be approved for 3G access. The video-rental company already offers the Netflix "Watch Now" video-on-demand service across an array of broadband-connected devices including TiVos, Sony HDTVs and PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360 consoles, and Roku's set-top box.
Proponents of network-neutrality regulations pointed to AT&T's decision as evidence that stronger safeguards are needed.
"We are glad to see SlingPlayer take its rightful place in the app store. But the incident highlights AT&T's anticompetitive and anti-consumer veto at work," Free Press policy counsel Chris Riley said. "AT&T's behavior is a case in point as to the need for network neutrality rules for all platforms. Internet access service providers have strong incentives to obstruct would-be competitors, and they will use whatever means are at their disposal to further them. AT&T doesn't get to approve every Web site -- and it shouldn't get to approve every app."