AT&T asks FCC to keep its sponsored data program intact after net neutrality goes into effect

Tier 1 carrier AT&T (NYSE: T) asked the FCC to make sure that, under the Open Internet Order governing net neutrality, it can still offer a "Sponsored Data" program that charges businesses to deliver their content to its mobile users without that data counting against users' data caps. Currently offered to advertising industry businesses, the program could be used to bill online video providers to deliver their content to AT&T customers.

If allowed, an Ars Technica story said, the fee for cap exemptions could be applied to content delivered to both wireless and wired broadband connections.

AT&T's filing was in response to a May 12 filing by several consumer advocacy groups and companies including Free Press, Cogent, Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) and others. That filing sought to prevent AT&T, specifically, from gaining exemptions to net neutrality rules, citing the carrier's planned acquisition of DirecTV as a significant factor. "To the extent that AT&T uses usage-based tracking, metering, or billing on its Broadband Internet Access Service, it shall not exempt any video service offered over broadband from such tracking, metering, or billing," the filing read.

AT&T, of course, feels it shouldn't be singled out by the FCC.

"It would be unprecedented and unjustified to force AT&T to provide free backbone services to other backbone carriers and edge providers, as Cogent et al. seek. Nor is there any basis for requiring AT&T to augment network capacity for free and without any limits," the carrier wrote in its FCC filing last week.

While noting that it gives its U-verse broadband customers generous data caps, it also mentioned that it is working to integrate more SVOD services into its offerings, similar to its recent deal with Hulu.

Further, AT&T said in its filing with the FCC, deals with content providers are necessary to meet consumer demand for anywhere, anytime services. "In particular, quality of service is now a fundamental driver of agreements that meet the needs of carriers, edge providers, and consumers."

The carrier also said that the importance of online video to viewers would keep ISPs like its U-Verse service from imposing onerous usage-based billing restrictions. "Given the growing importance of OVD content to consumers, a broadband provider with usage-based rates that significantly impinge on the ability of customers to enjoy OVD products between AT&T and OVD providers that make it easier for AT&T broadband customers to use OVD services, and AT&T's recently announced deal with Hulu is further evidence of that continued commitment," the carrier said in the filing.

The wording sounds fine, but the carrier isn't partial to the FCC's net neutrality rules in any form. As technology blog TechDirt noted, AT&T is currently part of two lawsuits that have been filed to overturn the rules completely. Furthermore, the carrier's data caps, such as its 150 GB cap for DSL users, are designed to drive away legacy DSL users and focus on higher-priced FTTN subscribers. "In short, AT&T caps markets that lack competition, and doesn't in markets where there's at least a little. Yet AT&T's telling the FCC that restricting their ability to impose what are entirely arbitrary caps that have nothing to do with network congestion--would hurt its ability to compete," TechDirt's Karl Bode wrote.

The FCC's net neutrality rules are scheduled to go into effect on June 12.

For more:
- see the filing
- Ars Technica has this story
- TechDirt has this post

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