AT&T partner opens ‘free’ content store

Earlier this year, US operator AT&T launched a controversial initiative that allows customers to view sponsored content and use apps over its HSPA+ and LTE networks without that data usage coming out of their monthly wireless data plan. Paying businesses instead cover the transmission cost of content they provide to consumers under the Sponsored Data scheme. A partner company has now shown off a content store showcasing all the ‘free’ content currently available.

Syntonic Wireless, which bills itself as an “AT&T sponsored data provider” unveiled its Sponsored Content Store for AT&T mobile subscribers, pitching an “open marketplace where AT&T wireless customers can access free or premium mobile content without impacting their data plans.”

According to Syntronic, content and application publishers are now able to promote their brand through a choice of service options that enable promotional opportunities and the ability to target specific audiences. Data charges resulting from Sponsored Data services will be billed directly to the sponsoring firm and the content will be delivered over the network at the same rate and quality as non-sponsored content. The operator envisions use cases for potential sponsors including the promotion of movie trailers or games, providing healthcare support to patients, encouraging customers to browse mobile shopping sites and allowing firms with a “bring your own device” policy to cover the cost for employees to use business related services.

Indeed, enterprises and SMBs are now able to cost effectively manage a BYOD model by providing employees with company-sponsored, anywhere access to the firm’s line of business resources and applications. Syntonic supports segmented billing today, where the employee is billed for personal data use and the company charged for corporate access, the company said.

“Customers just look for the Sponsored Data icon and they know the data related to that particular application or video is provided as a part of their monthly service,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO at AT&T Mobility, at the time of the launch of the plan in January.

However, the move caught the attention of US authorities keen to maintain the ‘openess’ of the internet.

Anna Eshoo, a ranking member of the US Communications and Technology Subcommittee, said in a statement that AT&T’s announcement “puts it in the business of picking winners and losers on the internet, threatening the open internet, competition and consumer choice.

“It’s exactly why net neutrality rules came to exist in the first place and why these rules should apply equally to all forms of broadband internet service,” she added.

Eshoo said that while on the surface the ability to allow consumers to access ‘toll-free’ content appeared to liberate them from the constraint of data caps, she believes there are serious implications for fairness and competition in the mobile marketplace.

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