T-Mobile, AT&T and others draw scrutiny with zero-rated data

T-Mobile US' Binge On and other zero-rated services continue to draw scrutiny in the regulatory and business sectors, according to a new The Wall Street Journal report on the space. Indeed, some are worried that Binge On and similar services represent a way to "boost favored content," a move that would run afoul of the FCC's net neutrality guidelines.

But T-Mobile isn't alone. AT&T is experimenting with zero-rated data and Verizon is reportedly planning to launch a sponsored-data service early next year. "Toll-free data," as sponsored-data offerings are often called, enable content providers to foot the bill for data transmissions, enabling consumers to enjoy the content free.

For its part, T-Mobile has said Binge On complies with net neutrality principles because it allows any video provider that meets the carrier's technical standards to participate. And it's worth noting that T-Mobile doesn't charge the content providers that participate in the Binge On offering.

That may seem like a "win-win" scenario where consumers can receive free content and services and the carriers can still make money, but it also risks crowding out smaller content providers that can't afford to absorb hefty data charges. As the Journal notes, the FCC has yet to take much public action to address some services that may appear to skirt net neutrality principles. But while toll-free data may have a nice ring to it, it also may forestall the development of innovative content and services that help make mobile entertainment such a compelling space. Article

Headline and article updated Dec. 14 to clarify that T-Mobile doesn't charge the providers of Binge On content.