AT&T has expanded its “sponsored data” program to cover customers on its prepaid wireless plans, offering them the ability to stream content from select partners without counting toward their data cap. The program was previously available to postpaid customers, but it now seems to apply to most AT&T wireless users.
While the program is in some ways a benefit to AT&T’s subscribers, the policy flies in the face of basic tenets of net neutrality. By offering some services for free and not others, AT&T gives a huge advantage to those apps and companies, because its customers will be much more likely to use them than competitors they’d have to give up data to use.
Not coincidentally, the only three services I could find that support AT&T’s sponsored data are owned by AT&T: DirecTV, U-verse, and Fullscreen, all video services. If you’re an AT&T wireless customer deciding between DirecTV Now and a competitor, like Hulu or Sling TV, this program gives the AT&T-owned service a huge advantage.
AT&T sent a text message out to prepaid customers today announcing the change, writing that “now your plan includes sponsored data. This means, for example, that customers who have DirecTV or U-verse TV can now stream movies and shows ... without it counting against their plan data.” Customers on AT&T’s two cheaper prepaid plans will automatically be opted in to use sponsored data.
Text message sent from AT&T to prepaid customers.
Because the FCC’s net neutrality rules are now a thing of the past, AT&T is totally in the clear to offer a service like this, and it’s not a surprise that the company is continuing to expand it. Other carriers have jumped on board, including Verizon, which launched a similar program in 2016.