Verizon rolls out ‘sponsored data’ plan

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Verizon unveiled a new program Tuesday that will allow companies to sponsor data usage for the wireless carrier’s customers.

The program, called FreeBee Data, will give advertisers a chance to subsidize some activity on Verizon’s network. Customers will be allowed to access the sponsored content without using up any of their monthly data allotment.

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Advertisers can pay for customers to access certain content — such as an application or website — on a per-gigabyte basis, or per-click basis.

The company is already offering the per-gigabyte model commercially and will begin testing the latter model on January 25.

“By building capabilities to help brands promote their content and applications, our new FreeBee Data service is a powerful tool designed to help marketers take an active part in consumers’ mobile lives,” said Verizon executive Colson Hillier in a statement Tuesday. “There’s never too much of a good thing when it comes to engaging customers with great content.”

Companies like Hearst Magazines and AOL, which is owned by Verizon, will participate tests of the per-click data program, according to a release.

Recode reported last month that the company would beginning testing sponsored data, marking Verizon's entry into the growing field of companies that engage in the controversial practice of allowing outside firms to pay for customer’s data use, called “zero-rating.”

T-Mobile currently allows customers to stream from certain video and music services at no cost, while AT&T has been testing a sponsored data option for years. Both of those companies were asked by the Federal Communications Commission last month to meet with agency officials to discuss their programs.

At the heart of the debate over “zero-rating” is critics’ contention that the services violate the principle of net neutrality, that all traffic on the Internet should be treated the same way by service providers. By allowing companies to subsidize user access to certain websites, critics worry, providers might be subtly steering users to those services.