Senate Dems challenge AT&T’s ‘zero-rating’ HBO Max policy

HBO Max
The Senators specifically called out HBO Max’s inclusion in AT&T’s Sponsored Data program, which allows companies to pay AT&T so their users can stream content on AT&T’s networks without being charged for data use. (HBO Max)

A group of democratic U.S. senators is challenging AT&T on its recently confirmed plans to exempt HBO Max from counting against AT&T subscribers’ data caps.

Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote a letter to outgoing AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson with potential competition and consumer concerns regarding special treatment for HBO Max, a streaming service that AT&T owns.

“According to recent reporting and comments from AT&T executives, your company has a policy of favoring a specific streaming service in a manner that appears to runs contrary to your stated support for a free and open internet,” the Senators wrote. “The Trump FCC may have gutted critical net neutrality protections, but AT&T nonetheless has a responsibility to avoid any policies or practices that harm consumers and stifle competition.”

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RELATED: AT&T defends HBO Max’s exclusion from data caps

The Senators specifically called out HBO Max’s inclusion in AT&T’s Sponsored Data program, which allows companies to pay AT&T so their users can stream content on AT&T’s networks without being charged for data use. In the case of HBO Max, AT&T is essentially paying itself for this treatment.

“This practice of allowing one arm of your company to ‘pay’ another arm of your company for preferential treatment attempts to mask its true impact,” the Senators wrote. They are asking AT&T to explain its decision by June 25, 2020.

The Verge first reported on AT&T’s plans for HBO Max to avoid data caps while competitors like Netflix and Disney+ will eat into AT&T subscribers’ mobile plans. AT&T defended the plan, saying that it will save money for millions of consumers and that it’s not unlike what some of its competitors already do.

“This is based on a Sponsored Data arrangement and is a program we offer on the same terms to any entities who wish to sponsor data for their customers. This is similar to arrangements many of our competitors have, we continue to support an open internet and have done so for more than a decade,” an AT&T spokesperson told FierceVideo.

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