The Beginning of the End for Net Neutrality? AT&T Announces Plans for Sponsored Content

This week, much of the technology world’s focus is on the Consumer Electronics Show(CES) in Las Vegas where many leading firms are unveiling their new products or announcing their next move.  With the focus on CES, it’s understandable that AT&T’s sponsored content announcement has received little coverage, despite its far reaching implications. AT&T are proposing to allow content providers to sponsor their own content, meaning that the content provider, not the end-user, would pay for any data costs incurred by viewing the content in question.  Let’s provide an example; suppose you view one of our “how-to” videos, you wouldn’t have that data charged to you but rather we, as content providers, would foot the bill (assuming, of course, that we had sponsored that content).

Sounds great, so what’s the problem?

On the face of it, seems like a great deal for the end-user doesn’t it? The end-user pays less and so you can do more, but there are problems further down the line.  In order to fully understand these problems, it’s useful to understand the Net Neutrality principle which, in its simplest form, states that all content and traffic should be treated equally by every internet provider and network operator.  Essentially, this principle creates a free market which allows everyone to publish content with an equal chance of it being accessed by the end user. Whilst AT&T went to the effort of pointing out that all content will still be treated equally on the network, the issue with the move is that it allows companies with higher spending power to absorb the data costs and potentially force others out of the market place. If such moves were to take place and the internet marketplace was to become a less competitive place, it isn’t a reach to believe that in the long run, the end user may end up paying more overall as the content provider would simply pass on their additional costs. Whilst Net Neutrality isn’t a rule in the mobile marketplace, this move will certainly be creating interest in the mobile industry, we will have to see if other network operators follow suit.