After one year and an FCC push, AT&T approves Sling Media Player for iPhone over its mobile 3G network

AT&T has announced that its 3G mobile broadband network will finally support Sling Media’s SlingPlayer Mobile application. The application, stalled for over a year, allows users to watch their home TV on their iPhone or iPod Touch while on the go.

Sling Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of EchoStar, developed its wireless application to make efficient use of 3G network bandwidth, and it has been tested by AT&T since mid-December. Prior to that, AT&T had blocked the application, claiming it would cause too much congestion on its network.

Given the continuing high volume of consumer complaints about the AT&T network, it is not clear whether substantial improvements have been made to the network since the application was rejected. It appears more likely that FCC scrutiny was behind the approval.

In June, AT&T and Apple approved a Major League Baseball video application that streams baseball games to the iPhone, an application that uses more network bandwidth than SlingPlayer, but AT&T did not reconsider Sling Media’s application at that time.

Similarly, VoIP applications — like Skype — were blocked from the iPhone for years. Only after the FCC sent a letter inquiring into the blocking of Google Voice — and the initiation of the agency’s network neutrality proceeding — did AT&T approve VoIP applications on the iPhone.

The Sling Media app is priced at $29.99 and features 16:9 widescreeen support and access to the DISH satellite-to-home network for subscribers.

Chris Riley, policy counsel at Free Press, a digital advocacy group, said the incident “highlights AT&T’s anticompetitive and anti consumer veto at work. Some video applications are approved and some are not — without clear technical differences. The process gives the appearance that app approval is a means for AT&T to pick winners and losers by cloaking its business decisions as congestion concerns.”

He said the case clearly demonstrates the need for network neutrality rules for all platforms. “AT&T doesn’t get to approve every web site — and it shouldn’t get to approve every app,” Riley said. “The FCC’s scrutiny of these approval processes has been the only effective method for removing these unreasonable barriers set up by carriers — and the agency must continue to be the smart cop on the beat.”