from the well-look-at-that dept
For a few years now AT&T has taken heat for its “Sponsored Data” program, which lets certain companies pay AT&T an extra fee to let consumers access their content without it impacting their wireless data usage allotment. Critics have repeatedly charged that the program immediately creates an uneven playing field for small companies, independent and non-profits, who may not be able to afford the toll. While it’s clear the plan violates net neutrality, consumers have been fortunate in that corporate interest in the idea so far appears to be minimal.
In an interesting twist, AT&T appears to now be cooking up a new program called “Data Perks” that gives consumers free, additional wireless data should they “interact” with AT&T partner brands in a specific fashion. Leaked information on the program suggests it’s being run by AT&T’s Sponsored Data partner Aquto, who explains AT&T’s new project as such:
“Aquto CEO Susie Riley told VentureBeat that to many brands it?s a lead generation campaign. Subscribers are rewarded with data when they sign up for services, learn about new products, discover new apps, or click through and purchase something at a brand?s e-commerce site. If for example, an AT&T customer bought a DVD from a participating brand, they might be awarded with a gigabyte of data that they could use to browse any site, anywhere on the web, Riley said. Subscribers accumulate their data credits in their Data Perks account, then transfer the data into their AT&T wireless account when they want.”
So far that sounds more neutrality friendly than the company’s Sponsored Data effort, as it’s opt in and doesn’t tilt the mobile Internet playing field in any obvious fashion. Of course this is AT&T — the same company that’s been busted time and time again for business models that trample neutrality and consumer rights — so we’ll have to see if there’s any nasty caveats when the program launches next Tuesday. AT&T might be engaging in semantics here (exempting some content from the cap, versus giving away “free” data if users “interact” with a brand). With the FCC’s new net neutrality rules taking effect this week (you know, the ones AT&T is suing twice to overturn), it seems possible that AT&T would tread carefully
While the FCC’s new neutrality rules don’t cover data caps and zero rating specifically, when they take effect on Friday there is at least a complaint mechanism for those who find a specific business model obviously anti-competitive. As such, ISPs can still violate neutrality, but as noted previously, they just have to be extra-clever about it, dressing it up as an innovative business model and a great boon for consumers (see T-Mobile’s Music Freedom). We’ll see next week if AT&T’s actually developing a sound business model for once — or if it’s just being extra clever.