Sponsored Data

Making Megabytes a form of currency

Android Central @ CES

At the AT&T Developer Summit today, AT&T senior executive John Donovan introduced everyone to the companies new Sponsored Data packages. Companies will be able to pay AT&T, so that when you use the AT&T network to see their content — whether it be video, inside an app, or a website — it doesn't count against your data cap.

The easy explanation is to think of things as a toll-free 800 number for the web. When you call a 1-800 number, it doesn't cost you anything. The other party is footing the bill. With AT&T Sponsored Data, a company could, for instance, put up a movie trailer you can watch on the AT&T network without the amount of data used counting against your monthly plan limits. AT&T says this fixes a major problem — people like to wait to use the web until they are on Wifi. When the data isn't being deducted from your monthly allotment, AT&T is banking on the idea that you'll use the network for content from these Sponsored Data partners.

On the surface, this sounds good for consumers. We like things that are good for consumers. The transmission rates are no different for Sponsored Data partners than they are for anything else, and the only difference is who is paying for the bandwidth. But this is a slippery slope, with the possibility of changing the way you use the web. This is something we, and policy makers in Washington, need to keep a close eye on.