AT&T Sponsored Data sharing was announced at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. Verizon and AT&T have been competing for cell phone plans with shoppers looking for the best deals between the two. The sponsored data plan announced at CES today will allow AT&T users to access data from sponsors with no cost against their monthly data usage. They will see a "sponsored" symbol in the status bar indicating that the user is not being docked the data bandwidth.
Verizon has been reportedly in talks with ESPN for a similar toll-free data deal. However, the announcement from CES has placed AT&T out in front with a new plan to save money for the consumer.
The service will be available to customers who have an active AT&T Data plan and a 4G (HSPA+ and LTE) capable device. This will include smartphones, tablets, laptop modems as well as mobile hotspots that are on the domestic wireless network. The only exception is that pre-paid accounts will not be eligible for the service.
Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility stated during the keynote, "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."
One of the first announced partners with AT&T is the insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc. Under the sponsored plan, customers could browse their personal healthcare information or other information without counting against their monthly data usage. For the customers of AT&T who count their data usage, the sponsored data plan would be a great way for users to explore not only UnitedHealth's offerings, but to take advantage of other sponsors offerings.
The chief concern from analysts is that bigger companies will have an unfair advantage over smaller ones. If a large company like ESPN wants to sponsor free data on their app or website it would make it difficult for smaller competitors to withstand the loss in traffic. Since the wireless networks of cell phone carriers are not regulated by the Net Neutrality guidelines the FCC established in 2010, there is more opportunity for unbalancing the market.
The AT&T Sponsored Data plan is set to be launched in the coming months and more data is available at the AT&T site for the new plan.