AT&T to charge website or app, not user

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AT&T introduced a new program Monday that would have websites and applications pay for users’ data consumption.

Rather than having AT&T customers use part of their wireless data plans to access certain content, “customer friendly” online content providers and services would pay AT&T so that the wireless carrier’s subscribers could access that content or service for free.

The program is “a win-win for customers and businesses,” CEO of AT&T Mobility Ralph de la Vega said in a statement. 

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“Customers 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.”

Through this program, participating content providers could find "potential innovative uses," such as encouraging users to try new applications or view promotional videos, AT&T said.

In its announcement, AT&T compared its Sponsored Data to 1-800 phone numbers. With toll free numbers — including 1-800 and 1-888 prefixes — the party being called pays the fee, rather than the party placing the call.

“Similar to 1-800 phone numbers or free shipping for internet commerce, AT&T’s new ‘Sponsored Data’ service opens up new data use options for AT&T wireless customers and customer-friendly mobile broadband channels to businesses that choose to participate as sponsors,” the company said.

The move was quickly met with criticism from the public interest community.

Acting Co-President of Public Knowledge, Michael Weinberg, called AT&T’s announcement “the latest example of how data caps are increasingly becoming used to threaten the open Internet.”

“The company that connects you to the Internet should not be in a position to control what you do on the Internet,” he said in a statement. “AT&T's announcement positions itself to do just that.”

Weinberg called on the Federal Communications Commission to investigate data caps, which he said are no longer necessary to handle overcrowded networks and are instead “are all about forcing content creators to pay.”

Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said AT&T’s “Sponsored Data” program will benefit AT&T while harming users and content providers.

“While sponsored data will be pitched as a way to save customers money, it's really just double charging,” and the content providers may pass that new cost along to users, he said in a statement.

“Letting the carriers charge more or less money to reach certain sites is discriminatory, and it's not how the Internet is supposed to work."