AT&T spares DirecTV from data caps

AT&T spares DirecTV from data caps
© Getty Images

AT&T on Wednesday announced that its wireless customers could stream content from its subsidiary DirecTV without running down their monthly data allotment.

It’s the latest example of a practice — called zero-rating — that has drawn criticism from consumer advocates who say it violates net neutrality, or the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated in the same way.


Under the plan, AT&T customers can use DirecTV’s application or the company’s U-verse App without it counting against their mobile data plan. AT&T said that taking advantage of the program was “easy and automatic after registering.”

The offering, first reported by Ars Technica, is part of a growing trend at mobile broadband providers of offering free data when customers access certain websites and services. T-Mobile’s Binge On offering now lets customers stream content from more than 100 video services without it counting against their data caps. Verizon also exempts its streaming video from data caps.

These programs, particularly those that are more restrictive, have triggered criticism from public interest advocacy groups. They say that the programs have the potential to steer customers toward the services covered by the exemptions over competitors who are not exempt.

Public interest group Free Press was quick to criticize the offering.
"With these schemes, AT&T seems intent on favoring its own video content under the DirecTV brand," said the group's policy director, Matt Wood. "That harms both diverse content creators and internet users who already pay so much for their wireless service. This isn’t really free data. It’s a way for AT&T to keep you paying for two services instead of one, and a roadblock designed to prevent you from using your data on any content AT&T doesn’t own."
AT&T told Ars Technica that DirecTV was paying its parent company for the free data through its sponsored data program, which other video services could take advantage of, as well.

The FCC has, so far, been quiet about an inquiry into the services that began last year with letters to AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile. Chairman Tom Wheeler said last month that he wasn’t ready to comment on what the agency had learned from that process.

“We’re not going to rush it, but we are going to have a thoughtful inquiry and that … we will be bringing forth the kind of things that we have discovered in that process when we have completed that thoughtful inquiry,” Wheeler said.