Like T-Mobile before it, Verizon Wireless is implementing a sponsored data program. While these programs may, on the surface, seem to result in savings for customers, in the long run sponsored data seriously undermines net neutrality, gives mobile carriers too much power, and costs companies and consumers.
Sponsored web programs are enabled by data limits in wireless contracts. In your wireless contract, you pre-pay for a monthly allotment of data. Then, content providers pay the mobile carrier for their content to be exempt from the data count. For example, if you are a T-mobile user, you can watch videos on Netflix without that data counting towards your monthly limit.
If you run out of data this month, you will still be able to watch videos on Netflix without paying an additional fee. However, if you watch videos on YouTube, you’ll be charged by T-Mobile for the additional data.
The threat to net neutrality
AT&T started making deals with companies to provide sponsored data about two years ago. T-Mobile does it as well, and now Verizon is joining. Verizon already has deals with AOL, Heart Magazines, and Gameday, and will undoubtedly seek out more partnerships.
Theoretically, these programs are good for customers because they give you a chance to do more online without paying extra fees. But these programs seriously threaten net neutrality, which is based on the idea that all information on the web should be equally accessible. Customers should have equal opportunity and incentive to view any and all web content, and all sites an equal chance to compete.
Paying their way in
Although it seems like you are saving money by using sponsored sites, another way of looking at it is that you are paying extra to access information that isn’t sponsored. Big companies are given an opportunity to pay their way into your device. Small companies can’t afford to get favored, and may not be able to keep up with the technical requirements. Carriers are given control over the terms of how sites engage with the device, and control over content.
Customers and content-creators are speaking out against sponsored data programs, and the FCC is keeping its eye on the situation. If they receive enough complaints, mobile carriers will likely be investigated for violating net neutrality.