AT&T announced a new sponsored data feature that would allow companies to pay for the data used by specific apps. Because the tab for that data has already been paid, the data used by these “sponsored” apps won’t count toward users’ monthly data caps, according to BGR.

In a press release, AT&T Mobility President and CEO Ralph de la Vega described this new initiative as a “win-win for customers and businesses.” Customers can “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,” The Verge reports.

Though this plan may initially sound like a great deal for consumers, many are concerned that this new model will threaten net neutrality.

What Is Net Neutrality?

The term “net neutrality” refers to the idea that all web content should be equally available to consumers. Recently, this idea has been under threat as cable companies have been lobbying the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt a payment model similar to cable TV, where consumers could pay extra to access specific Internet “channels” like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or Facebook. Not only would consumers have to pay extra for access to specific Web content, critics say, but it would also undermine the independent nature of the Web, greatly reducing the public’s ability to access small businesses’ or start-ups’ websites and severely affecting their ability to compete with larger corporations.

The Slippery Slope

Though sponsored data could help consumers who max out their monthly data allotment on a regular basis, thinking ahead, this type of scheme could give established companies an advantage on the mobile Web over smaller sites that can’t afford to pay for users’ data usage, making them less appealing to users and putting them in a poor position to compete with big businesses in this space. If this idea spreads to desktop-based Web services, the Web as we know it could become a very limited space, with only companies big enough to pay for data making their way to consumers’ screens.

Sponsored data has not yet made its way to AT&T customers’ handsets, but many are already concerned about the implications of this new plan and whether it could set a precedent that would end net neutrality.

What do you think about the idea of sponsored data? Does it seem like a harmless marketing tactic or could it be used to give corporations broad control over what content users see online?

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons




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