Yesterday AT&T announced its "Sponsored Data" initiative, which would allow companies to pay AT&T subscribers' data costs for accessing their content.
The plan immediately raised red flags for net neutrality activists, who saw the plan as the very thing they had been fighting to prevent. Though AT&T attempted to promote Sponsored Data as a good thing for consumers who might save on data costs, critics immediately saw how the plan could see AT&T and content providers influencing the competitive mobile marketplace. For example, it's easy to see how the plan could prevent startups from reaching data-conscious AT&T subscribers, who might instead stick with established mobile services that can afford to pay AT&T's Sponsored Data prices.
Criticism for the plan has not been contained to activist circles, however. Today Congresswoman Anna Eshoo spoke out against AT&T's Sponsored Data plan, saying that it could threaten the open internet. Eshoo is a Democratic representative from California's 18th district, which includes most of Silicon Valley. She is also a member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.
Eshoo's statement, in full:
“The announcement of a sponsored data program by AT&T puts it in the business of picking winners and losers on the Internet, threatening the open Internet, competition and consumer choice. It’s exactly why net neutrality rules came to exist in the first place and why these rules should apply equally to all forms of broadband Internet service.
“AT&T’s sponsored data program allows content creators and app developers to pay for a customer’s wireless data much like a company covers the cost of a long distance call using a 1-800 number. On its face, the ability for consumers to access ‘toll-free’ content seems like long-awaited relief from frustrating data caps. But embedded in programs of this type are serious implications for fairness and competition in the mobile marketplace. And we must ask just how beneficial a program like this is to consumers who could ultimately foot the bill for the added cost of doing business.”
It is not clear whether AT&T will face regulator scrutiny over its Sponsored Data plan. Under current net neutrality agreements, mobile service providers have nearly free reign when it comes to such matters. Still, the attention of legislators is the last thing AT&T needs while trying to fend off competition from T-Mobile.