Monday, AT&T announced a possible “sponsored data” program that would allow content providers — like app developers or media companies — to foot the bill for data their content uses, rather than it going towards consumers’ monthly data caps. Amidst claims that such a program would violate Net Neutrality laws, Ars Technica investigated further and concluded the plan is “very likely legal.” They interviewed many tech policy experts, including TF President Berin Szoka:
AT&T hasn’t revealed anything about whether it plans to bring Sponsored Data to its home Internet service. 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. While Weinberg noted that one could argue “that non-exempt services were actually being blocked under a data cap” when someone hits their limit, AT&T could correctly point out that consumers can simply pay for more data after reaching their limit.
TechFreedom, a libertarian think tank, agrees that the Open Internet Order is vague on the question of whether AT&T’s Sponsored Data or similar approaches would be legal in home broadband.
“It’s not entirely clear how the Open Internet Order’s non-discrimination rule would apply to Sponsored Data,” TechFreedom President Berin Szoka told Ars. “[FCC Chairman] Tom Wheeler certainly seemed, at least in his recent off-the-cuff remarks, to think that two-sided markets aren’t inconsistent with Net Neutrality.”