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AT&T playing iPhone streaming favorites

Baseball, yes. Sling Media, no

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AT&T is playing favorites when it comes to whom it allows to stream media over its 3G wireless broadband service and who it bars from doing so.

According to a report by the media-reform group Free Press, AT&T is allowing Major League Baseball to stream live games to its MLB.com At Bat 2009 (iTunes link) iPhone app over AT&T's 3G network, but it explicitly denies Sling Media the right to stream content over 3G to their iPhone app, SlingPlayer Mobile (iTunes link).

According to Sling Media's marketing blurb on the iTunes App Store, "SlingPlayer Mobile for the iPhone only supports streaming over a WiFi connection at this time." MLB.com At Bat 2009's blurb, on the other hand, reads "The application will detect your available network connectivity and deliver the highest quality video possible" - meaning Wi-Fi or 3G.

Why is AT&T keeping Sling Media off 3G? Well, this May, Cnet quoted an AT&T spokesman as saying about SlingPlayer Mobile, "It's absolutely cool [technology], but if we allowed these kinds of services, the highway would quickly become clogged."

Apparently, baseball games don't clog the InfoBahn as mightily as does content slung from a Sling Player - even though Sling Media's mobility product manager was also quoted by Cnet as saying that the company's iPhone app "is under the bit rate that Apple has set for these kinds of applications."

Free Press also points to an article in The Washington Post that quotes an AT&T lobbyist as saying that "The same principals [sic] should apply across the board. As people migrate to the use of wireless devices to access the Internet, they...certainly expect that we treat these services the same way."

Doesn't look like it.

AT&T is wallowing in bad press these days and is facing increasing government scrutiny about its wireless practices.

First came the announcement at the rollout of Apple's new iPhone 3G S that AT&T wouldn't support MMS and internet tethering when the iPhone became available for sale in the US (today, by the way).

Then came the howls of protest when AT&T announced that early iPhone 3G adopters would have to pay a hefty upgrade fee to move up to the new phone - a situation AT&T only mildly mitigated with a half-hearted attempt at reducing the upgrade fee for some of the affected fanbois.

And now the US government is getting into the act, with an investigation of exclusivity contracts between smartphone manufacturers and wireless providers. Interim Federal Communications Commission chair Michael Copps, for example, has instructed his team to "to closely examine wireless handset exclusivity arrangements" after receiving a letter from four US senators proposing such a review.

AT&T, as might be expected, isn't buckling. At a hearing held Thursday by the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to discuss "The Consumer Wireless Experience," Paul Roth, president of AT&T's retail sales and services division, testified that "Exclusive handset distribution arrangements encourage the necessary collaboration that optimizes handset performance and accelerates the delivery of next-generation features."

Roth didn't mention that exclusivity also protects AT&T when it plays favorites with streaming, is late with features provided by other wireless services, and angers loyal customers with high upgrade fees.

AT&T is making few friends among those US iPhone owners forced to use its wireless service.

And the favoritism continues. As of today, Sling Media still can't use AT&T's 3G streaming service, and MLB.com At Bat 2009's first game was streamed Thursday afternoon - the Cubs versus the White Sox, which the Cubbies won 6-5 on Alfonso Soriano's walk-off RBI single in the ninth. ®

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