As you can imagine after coming under fire shortly after being announced, AT&T is defending its new Sponsored Data program, claiming that it does not violate the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said within hours of AT&T making it official that his organization would take a deep look at the program to make sure there are no reg flags being raised. Should they see something that would raise an eyebrow or two with companies paying for customers’ data, they are prepared to intervene. AT&T issued a statement in response through Jim Ciccioni, AT&T senior EVP of External and Legislative Affairs (holy title), and has said that they are “completely confident” that they comply and that the program is meant only to benefit customers.
Analysts and pundits across the industry are taking stances on both sides, with some even arguing that because AT&T’s program is being sold as one that saves customers money, that they may be in the clear with the FCC no matter what. Others argue that this is simply a way for AT&T to control what you can and cannot see on your phone.
Ciccioni had the following to say on the matter:
“AT&T’s sponsored data service is aimed solely at benefiting our customers,” he said. “It allows any company who wishes to pay our customers’ costs for accessing that company’s content to do so. This is purely voluntary and non-exclusive. It is an offering by that company, not by AT&T.”
I have yet to weigh in on the subject since I’ve been walking 8 miles a day at CES, but here is my take. AT&T’s Sponsored Data sounds like a terrible thing for consumers in the long run. AT&T is going to sell this as a benefit to consumers, since it’ll save them on data costs. The problem is that we don’t know the deals made by companies to get their products in your face, to be listed first, to be sped up when accessed, etc. We also don’t know how this affects the rest of the crowd that hasn’t paid to be promoted or to provide “sponsored” data. I think it’s safe to assume that anyone paying expects to be held above someone who isn’t, so the big dogs with plenty of money will continue to be in your face at all times. In other words, AT&T will essentially be able to limit whatever it is that you access on their network because it has been bought, even though they won’t admit that.
AT&T is selling this as a way to build brand loyalty, as a program that will “transform” mobile marketing, and offer advertisers “compelling solutions” to get their products in your face. Are we talking pop-up ads when I’m at the movie theater? Are we talking a slower experience when using an app from Pizza Hut over Domino’s?
The beauty of the internet is that it’s wide open. If AT&T is allowed to sell parts of it, this is only the beginning. Verizon will be right behind them. Who knows who will then be next. Your data experience will be bought. It will no longer be yours. You ready for that?
Take a watch of the video below to get an understanding at how bad this is going to be.