AT&T gauges consumer interest in toll-free data

AT&T (NYSE:T) is reportedly exploring what wireless customers think about the idea of having content providers foot the bill for some of the data those users consume.

According to Broadband Reports, AT&T is circulating a survey that asks consumers if they would support having content providers pay for their bandwidth consumption while they engage with that provider's content.

The specific survey question cited asks respondents how interested they would be in viewing a movie trailer if they knew doing so would not count against their monthly data plan because the 20 MB or so consumed would be paid for by the movie studio. Customers would be alerted about the free data while using their phone to search for content such as movies, games or music, at which time a symbol or logo would appear indicating which content would be delivered without data consumption charges.

FierceBroadbandWireless reached out to AT&T for more information on this survey and its aims, but was informed by a spokesman, "AT&T has no comment at this time."

AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega acknowledged earlier this month during the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference that AT&T was seeking feedback from application developers regarding the concept of "toll-free" data plans, which would allow content providers to pick up the cost of subscribers' data usage on specific services.

That was not the first time AT&T has publicly broached the subject of charging application developers for data consumed by customers. The topic first came up in February, when AT&T's head of technology, John Donovan, told the Wall Street Journal the operator was targeting 2013 for the release of a feature enabling customers to choose apps that would not incur network usage charges because application developers would subsidize these costs.

In July AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told attendees at a tech conference in Colorado that the operator was still mulling the toll-free data idea and stated that some content providers have even requested the operator implement such a program. Stephenson acknowledged that the subject of toll-free data plans makes some people "emotional" but said the proposal would remove barriers for mobile companies with "business models premised on traffic."

Executives from T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) also confirmed during the past year that they are toying with the idea of launching toll-free data plans.

Verizon Communications CEO Lowell McAdam, speaking earlier this month at the same UBS conference as de la Vega, observed that toll-free data plans have been a topic of conversation for a while. "I don't think we've seen any meaningful application move in a big way, but I think it's possible," he said, adding he expects some form of toll-free data plans to emerge before the end of 2013.

For more:
- see this Broadband Reports article

Related articles:
AT&T's de la Vega: We're on pace for 'record' smartphone sales in Q4
Verizon's McAdam: AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile all 'playing catch up'
Toll-free data: The technical details, the business model and the skeptics
AT&T CEO: Content providers asking for 'toll-free' data plans
AT&T's Stephenson: Content providers are asking for 'toll free' data plans
Verizon, T-Mobile promote idea of 'toll free' data plans
AT&T reveals plan to charge developers for data