It’s easy to see why ISPs and carriers would love AT&T’s Sponsored Data scheme — after all, it gives them the ability to both slap subscribers with overage fees and extract rents from tech companies who are willing to pay fees so that their own users don’t get slapped with overage fees. Ars Technica reports that if AT&T’s Sponsored Data gambit is successful, it could lead to many home broadband providers trying to pull off similar plans by asking Netflix, Hulu and other high-bandwidth content providers to pay up to ensure that their subscribers don’t go over their data caps.
“But wouldn’t this violate the FCC’s net neutrality restrictions?” you ask.
The answer, Ars says, is “Probably not.” Essentially the FCC’s net neutrality restrictions only mandate that wireline ISPs not favor some types of traffic over others — in other words, they can’t prioritize traffic from their own video streaming services at the expense of Netflix or competing services. On the other hand, the rules say nothing about creating data caps and then charging companies to make sure that their users can bypass those caps.
“AT&T hasn’t revealed anything about whether it plans to bring Sponsored Data to its home Internet service,” Ars writes. “Doing so might bring a lawsuit, but the company has plenty of money for lawyers — and the lack of specifics in the Open Internet Order could make it likely that they’d win.”