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AT&T finds an end run around net neutrality with 'Sponsored Data' plan

Mark Sullivan | Jan. 7, 2014
AT&T chose Vegas to announce its new "Sponsored Data" plan, which will allow AT&T wireless customers to access online services of participating (paying) companies without using any of their monthly data allowance. How completely appropriate that the telecom giant chose Vegas, because "Sponsored Data" indeed picks winners and gambles with the competitive future of the Internet.

Public Knowledge believes that AT&T's whole reason for introducing and keeping data caps in place was to create a market among web companies for Sponsored Data. 

"As AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson announced in May, data caps are all about forcing content creators to pay and are no longer about any sort of network congestion," Weinberg writes. "In December, Stephenson admitted to investors that they had addressed the network capacity issues that were used to justify data caps in the first place."

AT&T is also using the new program, which it knows will be desirable to consumers, to push customers to sign up for the more profitable service contracts and more expensive 4G phones. You can't get the free access to these Sponsored Data partners if you don't have a service plan and 4G phone. Oh, and you even have to watch a video advertisement before you get your free Facebook fix. 

It remains to be seen if the FCC, with it's newly elected and carrier-friendly chairman Tom Wheeler, will have something to say about network neutrality implications of "Sponsored Data."


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