Verizon to test sponsored data service

Verizon is launching tests of so-called sponsored data options, according to multiple reports, expanding the use of a potentially controversial tactic.

Re/code reported on Wednesday that the company was planning to start testing a service where someone other than the customer can pay for data. The company told the publication that the service will be available broadly next year.

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“The capabilities we’ve built allow us to break down any byte that is carried across our network and have all or a portion of that sponsored,” Marni Walden, an executive with the company, told Re/code.

A Verizon spokesperson said that the company had no further comment beyond what was included in the Re/code report.

Verizon’s main competitor, AT&T, is also testing a sponsored, or toll-free, data service. It has charged marketers in the past for displaying their advertisements without any cost to a customer’s data plan.

The concept of toll-free data is not without controversy. Some allege that sponsored data services violate net neutrality, or the principle that Internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks in the same way.

T-Mobile has raised similar questions with its decision to allow customers to use some video and music services without counting against their data caps. The company maintains its policy doesn’t infringe on the principle of neutrality.