Is AT&T destroying Net Neutrality?
On Monday, AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), unveiled its new "toll free" mobile data plan to the galaxy of life forms attending the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. The new plan, now known throughout the Universe as Sponsored Data, caused a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of bloggers cried out in either joy or terror of the announcement.
Begun, the mobile data wars have! The space opera of Sponsored Data has bloggers dueling, fighting, and debating with the single-mindedness of androids piloting a space ship. Strap yourself in for the jump to light-speed.
In IT Blogwatch, bloggers make the Kessel Run in under 1200 keystrokes. Not to mention: Yogurt adds his opinion...
Your humble blogwatcher curated these bloggy bits for your entertainment, ably assisted by Stephen Glasskeys.
On the topic of Sponsored Data, Stephen Lawson centers:
AT&T will let media companies and other partners cover the cost of delivering some data over the carrier's mobile network, letting subscribers click on videos and other content without worrying about their monthly data caps.
...The Sponsored Data service, announced on Monday at an AT&T developer conference held alongside the International CES in Las Vegas, sets up a new way for the carrier to get paid for delivering data over its network. AT&T compared it to free shipping for online purchases or free voice numbers for customer service, such as the 800 numbers widely used in the U.S.
...Though sponsored streams and downloads won't use different network technology or run faster than standard data, they may be more appealing to consumers because they don't count against data caps. Standard, non-sponsored apps and online services will still be counted against those limits. That could give big content providers an edge over smaller players that can't afford to sponsor content, but the program doesn't violate net neutrality rules for mobile networks, which are more lax than for wired broadband.
...The service is available to subscribers on postpaid or session-based data plans using any device that runs on AT&T's domestic LTE and HSPA (high-speed packet data) networks. That includes smartphones, tablets, laptop modems and mobile hotspots. MORE
Chris Morran predicts a start-up rebellion:
Today, the Death Star finally announced that it will [shift some of the burden on] content providers with something called “Sponsored Data.”
...AT&T is trying to preemptively quell net neutrality concerns by saying that Sponsored Data partners will not be treated any differently in terms of the speed or quality of data delivery.
...However, one big concern about programs like this is that smaller businesses and start-ups may not be able to compete with companies that can afford to pay for customers’ data use. MORE
Straight from the tauntaun's mouth:
“Customers love mobile content. Whether it’s shopping, banking, entertainment or personal wellness, mobile content is increasingly available for customers almost anywhere and anytime. And that’s what makes this a win-win for customers and businesses – customers just look for the Sponsored Data icon and they know the data related to that particular application or video is provided as a part of their monthly service,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility. “This is an exciting new opportunity for us and, most importantly, our customers.”
...Content providers and other businesses can use this innovative network solution with existing mobile websites and applications. The service is easily integrated into existing platforms and services and will be available across many mobile devices and operating systems. Additionally, the unique developer portal website includes intuitive features which allow sponsors to manage their offers, check billing and measure impact of offers using a robust analytics engine. MORE
This puts Brian Barrett on Cloud City:
Zippy 4G data speeds have made gobbling down data a cinch, but they've made bumping up against your mobile plan's data caps even easier. AT&T might have found a way to provide some relief—by letting the companies whose sites you're visiting foot the bill.
...The "Sponsored Data" program...is pretty self-explanatory; go to site that's bought in, and the data you expend there won't count against your monthly limit. Easy!
...If there's any downside, it's the potential that companies paying for your data would want preferential bandwidth treatment, but AT&T has explicitly said that this won't be the case. [Sponsored Data] could provide [relief] from the terror of Big Data. MORE
But jabba-ering Tim Cushing is not fooled by mind tricks:
AT&T is no stranger to making a mockery of net neutrality rules. It heavily influenced the rules [and has] taken advantage of loopholes to push its favored apps and services. AT&T is now making another attempt to [subvert] net neutrality with its "sponsored data" plan.
...By having developers and providers pay the "freight" for data, AT&T will once again be derailing net neutrality. A system [favors] deeper-pocketed entities, raising the barrier...for everyone else. Subscribers...will be much more likely to use services and apps that don't cut into their monthly allotment. AT&T will also effectively collect twice on the data, once with the monthly service charge to subscribers (that isn't reduced if customers don't hit their caps) and once from any developers/providers who buy in.
...But it's what's tacitly admitted by this program -- something AT&T avoids addressing -- that's the most interesting. Giving providers and developers the option to pay freight on data exposes these data caps for what they are: an arbitrary limit that exists only as new source of revenue.
...AT&T wants everyone to use more data, which will increase the amount it can collect. ... [It's] more evidence that equating data caps with network capacity is nothing more than a lousy spin job attempting to justify the replacement of unlimited data with multiple revenue streams. MORE
Meditating further, Nilay Patel senses the dark side:
AT&T today announced a new "Sponsored Data" program that lets developers and brands pay to deliver content to your mobile device outside of your data caps. It sounds great for consumers on its face — you'll be able to get more stuff without paying for it! — but in reality it's a huge blow to the free and vibrant market of the internet economy, and the first step towards a new era of carrier control.
...[Sponsored Data] sounds great — as consumers, we'd get more for our money — but in reality it's a way for AT&T to levy taxes on companies who can afford to pay. That has huge implications for the free market of the internet:
...[It] gets even more evil: if sponsored data becomes a de facto cost of business in the exploding mobile market, those costs will just get passed right back to consumers.
...The smartphone revolution was all about escaping the stifling and restrictive control of the carrier walled garden for the freedom of the internet. With Sponsored Data, AT&T is trying to put those walls back up. MORE
Ina Fried returns balance to the Force:
After indicating for two years that it was interested in such a service, AT&T is announcing Monday its plan for “sponsored data,” in which businesses can pick up the bill for consumers using certain apps or services.
...For consumers, it’s the data equivalent of making a toll-free call with the business providing the service picking up [the cost of data].
...While new to U.S. cellular customers, [other] Wi-Fi providers...have been offering similar options. On Virgin America, for example, visits to eBay are free to the consumer, with the online marketplace figuring having a captive shopping audience is worth the cost of underwriting the service.
...Businesses could also use the option to pay the data cost of workers’ use of certain apps in cases where employees typically pay their own cell phone bills.
...AT&T...had to do a bunch of work...to make the service possible, with some help from Amdocs and Ericsson. Also, sponsored data only works on one of AT&T’s fastest two networks (LTE or HSPA+) so it had to also make sure customers in nearly all areas could get one of those two services. MORE
Meanwhile, Shaun Nichols is mindful of his thoughts:
AT&T believes [sponsored data] will help to expand the use of web services on its 4G wireless broadband network by removing the worry customers have of using up their plan's allocated wireless data quota.
...If adopted by site operators, AT&T stands to benefit from the sponsored data plan as well. In shifting the cost...the company will be able to offer more wireless broadband content without taking a hit to its own bottom line.
...[It] also helps bypass network neutrality principles which rule that carriers should provide not preferential network access or bandwidth based on the service or platform being accessed by customers. While still hotly debated, [US officials have] relaxed their attitudes on neutrality, particularly over the sale of bandwidth for demanding media-streaming services. MORE
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