AT&T today unveiled a new plan to allow content providers to subsidize data costs for AT&T mobile subscribers.
The plan, called "Sponsored Data" would allow companies to pay for any data charges that AT&T mobile customers would ordinarily incur accessing those companies' content. Sponsored Data content will be marked with a special icon denoting that certain apps, videos, and services can be used by AT&T subscribers without fear of being charged extra for data costs.
It must be pointed out that AT&T’s Sponsored Data is exactly the sort of thing net neutrality advocates have been warning about for years now. Though AT&T emphasized that the new plan does not prioritize sponsored traffic over its network, the system will still be able to push users toward apps, storefronts, and other content provided by those companies that can pay AT&T's Sponsored Data costs.
While AT&T is marketing the plan as beneficial to consumers who access content that will be participating in Sponsored Data, the startups that have made the mobile market as competitive as it is today would effectively have to pay AT&T a Sponsored Data ransom - or else convince consumers that their content is worth a bit of consumers' precious monthly allotment of data. The Sponsored Data plan also provides AT&T with no incentive to raise low (and expensive per GB) mobile data caps.
“As content consumption has evolved from analog to digital, so have the ways for companies to reach consumers,” said Andy Geisse, CEO of AT&T Business Solutions. “The Sponsored Data model is just one way we’re helping companies tap into our network to offer differentiated experiences and transform the way they do business.”