AT&T’s new Sponsored Data program is a bold move, and perhaps one with a good deal of trouble attached. With Sponsored Data, AT&T will allow businesses to pay for data consumed by certain apps so that sponsored data charges won’t apply to users’ monthly data limits. While the benefits to marketers and enterprise customers are fairly straight forward (as are the benefits to AT&T), the service also raises a number of concerns and flirts with the hot-button net neutrality issue. AT&T has already drawn fire from one lawmaker, local Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, and now it looks like the Federal Communications Commission has turned its watchful eye toward the carrier’s new toll-free data program.
According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, AT&T and the FCC may soon have another issue to exchange blows over. While the FCC isn't stepping in right now, Chairman Tom Wheeler has made it clear that the commission is ready to do so should the need arise. ”Make no mistake, we’re ready to intervene,” Wheeler told The Journal. ”We want to encourage innovation, with the full capability and legal authority to intervene in those circumstances where there are untoward impacts on competition and consumers.”
But some lawmakers are skipping the wait-and-see stage and moving directly into attack mode. Rep. Eshoo, who has been a visible champion of Net neutrality, recently said that AT&T’s new program is a huge threat that should be eliminated.
“The announcement of a sponsored data program by AT&T puts it in the business of picking winners and losers on the Internet, threatening the open Internet, competition and consumer choice,”Eschoo said.