With Net Neutrality Dying, AT&T Expands Zero R
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With AT&T having successfully lobbied the government to kill net neutrality protections, it's quickly moving to expand zero rating to the company's prepaid plans. The idea of zero rating involves letting some content (quite often a large ISP's own) be exempt from what are often already arbitrary usage caps. Critics have long argued that this practice gives incumbent ISPs an unfair advantage in the media space, since it gives an ISP's own services an unfair advantage in the streaming video space. The previous FCC was just about to ding AT&T for behaving anti-competitively in this space before the last election.

But that was then, and this is now.

With net neutrality on the chopping block, AT&T has expanded the company's "Sponsored Data" program into the prepaid space. Under Sponsored Data, companies can pay AT&T extra money to have their content be cap-exempt. While that allows deeper-pocketed companies an unfair leg up over smaller competitors (especially of the non-profit or startup variety), AT&T tries to advertise the program as the broadband equivalent of "free shipping" or a "1-800 number for data."

And of course, the biggest beneficiaries of AT&T's decision to push zero rating into the prepaid space is...AT&T:quote:
Not coincidentally, the only three services I could find that support AT&T s sponsored data are owned by AT&T: DirecTV, U-verse, and Fullscreen, all video services. If you re an AT&T wireless customer deciding between DirecTV Now and a competitor, like Hulu or Sling TV, this program gives the AT&T-owned service a huge advantage.
On one hand, if you're an AT&T customer on a capped plan this probably looks good to you, as these services aren't eating up your data allotments. At least until you realize that caps and overage fees are entirely arbitrary in the first place, creating a system where AT&T can tilt the entire playing field in favor of the company's own services. And while the return of unlimited data plans helps bypass this issue in the interim, it's more than likely that with sector oversight gutted that carriers will try their hardest to bring back metered options.

The failure of otherwise smart people to understand how zero rating is used anti-competitively is one of the reasons we're currently staring at the ashes of meaningful net neutrality protections.
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Submitted: 02/25/18

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