AT&T launched a new billing program called Sponsored Data Monday at its developer conference at CES, which shifts mobile data costs from the consumer to the content provider. The idea is to create a two-sided charging model for mobile data, letting app developers and content providers foot the bill for their customers’ data use. That kind of the model has the potential to save consumers money, but as we’ve pointed out before it also messes with some of the foundational principles of the internet.
This kind of stuff makes me nervous, and Fitchard does a really good job pointing to the good and bad sides of a move like this.
But one of the foundational principles of the internet is that it’s neutral, that no content is prioritized over other content. While AT&T stressed it won’t actually prioritize traffic in the Sponsored Data program — apps and content will work the same on the network no matter who’s footing the data bill — this type of program creates a kind of de facto hierarchy from the consumer’s standpoint. If all other things are equal, why not watch the video or use the app that doesn’t drain your data plan?
It will be interesting to see how this plays out.