AT&T unveiled a new program called Sponsored Data earlier this week and to say it has ruffled some feathers is a huge understatement. The initiative allows companies to pay for the cellular data consumed by specific apps, so that people can utilize those apps without having the data they send and receive apply to monthly data limits. It’s definitely a bold move on AT&T’s part that could end up making the company a lot of money while also giving its partners a great way to promote their apps and services, but it could also end up being an absolute nightmare for the carrier. Many have complained that it violates Net neutrality rules and the FCC has already said that it’s ready to stomp on the program if need be, but AT&T’s top executive in Washington D.C. has issued a statement in an attempt to extinguish this fire before it grows into a five-alarm blaze.
In a nutshell, AT&T insists that its new Sponsored Data program does not violate the FCC’s Net neutrality rules at all. Whether or not the carrier’s new statement on the matter will do anything at all to quell growing concerns remains to be seen.
“We are completely confident this offering complies with the FCC’s Net neutrality rules, which our company supports,” AT&T senior executive vice president of External and Legislative Affairs Jim Cicconi said in a statement picked up by CNET late on Thursday. “AT&T’s sponsored data service is aimed solely at benefiting our customers. It allows any company who wishes to pay our customers’ costs for accessing that company’s content to do so. This is purely voluntary and non-exclusive. It is an offering by that company, not by AT&T. We simply enable it. The bottom line is that this can save money for our customers. We see no reason why this is not a good thing.”
Beyond causing a stir on tech blogs and social networks, Sponsored Data has also drawn fire from several consumer watchdog groups as well as some lawmakers. “On its face, the ability for consumers to access ‘toll-free’ content seems like long-awaited relief from frustrating data caps,” California Congresswoman and Net neutrality supporter Anna Eshoo said in a statement earlier this week. “But embedded in programs of this type are serious implications for fairness and competition in the mobile marketplace.”
Updated with AT&T’s full statement.