Last week, we talked to you about the idea of companies subsidizing your smartphone’s wireless connection, inspired by news that T-Mobile and Facebook were making the latter’s apps free-to-use for customers who otherwise lacked data service on their accounts. This week, however, AT&T took things one step further and announced a formal “Sponsored Data” program, inviting companies form all over to make their apps more attractive to AT&T users by offering to pay themselves for the data consumed, rather than putting that cost on the user. For instance, maybe Hulu could sponsor Hulu Plus data, so users could stream shows without killing their data allotments. However, this new attention may instead serve to derail such schemes, as the FCC starts getting ready to intervene.
While it’s not taking action just yet, the FCC is keeping a close eye on AT&T as it gets started with this initiative, and Chairman Tom Wheeler explains that the agency won’t hesitate to get involved if need be, saying “make no mistake, we’re ready to intervene.”
Still, other voices at the FCC are far less concerned with the basic tenets of net neutrality, and Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai has criticized Wheeler for what he frames as an attack on a whole business model, rather than on specific wrongful actions.
It remains to be seen how this will all play out, but AT&T may want to tread lightly.