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CES 2014: AT&T launches sponsored data plan

att-logo2-ftAT&T chose the Consumer Electronics Show as the venue for the launch of a new data pricing strategy that will let companies pick up the tab for mobile subscribers. Comparing its sponsored data plan to 1-800 numbers, AT&T said today that corporate sponsors will be able to offer videos and other selected content to its customers.

AT&T’s LTE and HSPA+ subscribers will see an icon that says AT&T Sponsored Data when they choose to access the sponsored content, and they will not be charged for the data. AT&T hopes companies will use its sponsored data plan to promote new movies and mobile apps, or to deliver information that has the potential to help their bottom lines. For example, one of AT&T’s first customers for its sponsored data plan is United Healthcare. The insurer hopes to promote healthy choices by showing customers wellness videos.

Ralph de la Vega, AT&T Mobility president and CEO, called sponsored data a “win-win” for customers and businesses, and of course the business that stands to benefit the most is his. If AT&T can use the sponsored model to offer a significant amount of compelling content, the carrier is likely to attract new subscribers. It could also charge sponsors premium rates, effectively delivering data for a higher price than it would charge consumers for the same data. This possibility has consumer advocates worrying that what looks like a good deal for mobile subscribers may not be.

If companies have the opportunity to buy data for consumers, those with deeper pockets can potentially drive smaller competitors out of the market. So, for example, a new mobile app created by an independent developer might not stand a chance against a competing app from Google, at least not on AT&T’s network.

For sponsors, the offering includes a data analytics tool that will allow them to measure the impact of their sponsorships. AT&T hopes that the plan will appeal not only to advertisers, but also to companies who want to push information to their employees via the AT&T network.

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