FCC Watching AT&T’s Sponsored Data CloselyBy: Sean Patterson - January 9, 2014
Early this week AT&T announced its new plan to allow “Sponsored Data” over its network. The plan would see content providers paying AT&T for the data usage costs incurred by AT&T mobile subscribers. The scheme would allow those content providers able to pay the ability to better promote their streaming videos, marketplaces, or other apps to data-conscious AT&T customers.
The plan immediately came under fire from net neutrality advocates, who see the plan as the beginning of the very thing they had sought to stop from happening. AT&T’s sponsored data also drew criticism from Silicon Valley’s Congresswoman, who stated that the plan could threaten the open internet. Now the plan has drawn the attention of the group AT&T least wants to address its Sponsored Data ambitions – the FCC.
The Wall Street Journal today reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is aware of the program and watching it closely. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is quoted as saying the FCC will be taking a wait-and-see approach to Sponsored Data. The commission will wait for the program to roll out before making a decision on it, though Wheeler made it clear the FCC is “ready to intervene” if Sponsored Data is anticompetitive or interferes with customers’ internet access.
Though AT&T claims that Sponsored Data will be consumer-friendly for those customers who often use content from sponsors, critics are envisioning a scenario in which AT&T and content companies stifle competition by curating a selection of popular content that can be accessed without fear of data overages. AT&T made it clear that sponsored content would not get network priority, but low data caps from mobile providers could leave customers with little choice as mobile content begins to take more bandwidth.