Verizon, one of net neutrality’s biggest foes, says it’s ready to test sponsored data

Big companies can now pay for a huge advantage over smaller rivals

Verizon Net NeutralityImage Source: Bloomberg

Of all the companies that have opposed net neutrality over the years, Verizon is likely the most outspoken and shameless among them. As consumers fought to support guidelines that would ensure a level playing field on the web, Verizon spent big money lobbying against net neutrality for fear that it might eat into the company’s bottom line. Then, in an ironic twist, the Federal Communications Commission ended up green-lighting net neutrality rules that were even more consumer friendly than the ones Verizon spent the most time and energy lobbying against.

We all knew that the new rules wouldn’t stop Verizon from finding and taking advantage of loopholes in the new net neutrality laws though, and now the company has confirmed that it’s ready to give net neutrality a nice big slap in the face.

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Picture this: you’re a young mobile video startup getting ready to take on well-established giants. You run lean and mean to stretch what little investment you were able to raise as far as it will go, and now it’s time to launch. You announce that your service is live, and you even manage to drum up some media coverage.

But there’s a tiny little problem… when customers of the nation’s largest wireless carriers stream video content from your big established rivals, they don’t have to pay for it because it doesn’t apply to their data caps. When they stream video from your service, however, they watch their data usage skyrocket and get dangerously close to their caps, meaning that they soon may have to cough up extra cash if they go over their monthly data allotments.

This is the world big wireless carriers are currently trying to create.

AT&T announced its sponsored data initiative quite some time ago, but it pumped the brakes when the net neutrality debate gathered steam. Verizon is being far less cautious though, and Recode reports that the company is ready to start testing “FreeBee,” a service that is almost identical to AT&T’s old offering.

With FreeBee, big companies can offer to pay Verizon directly and foot the bill for data consumed by their apps or services. Verizon says companies can either cover the cost of all data consumed when a person uses their apps or services, or they can foot the bill for data on a per-click basis, paying only for specific video streams or app downloads.

“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,” Verizon EVP Marni Walden said last month.

Reports emerged in December stating that Verizon was getting ready to launch services that would flirt with violating at least the spirit if not the letter of net neutrality laws, and now the company is ready to start trialling a new service that indeed fits the bill. Initial reports noted that Verizon planned to exempt its own Go90 video service from data caps, but it is unclear at this time if that is part of the carrier’s new FreeBee initiative.

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