US carriers may offer 'toll free' data plans
Verizon and TMo follow AT&T in evaluating schemes which charge content providers for users' data charges
Published: 10 May, 2012
After years of making a relatively simple choice between all-you-can-eat and tiered pricing plans, cellcos know they have to think more creatively to balance profit and customer appeal in the mobile broadband era. 'Bucket plans', which allow a data allowance to be shared between several devices, are on their way, as Verizon hinted recently, and now the US operator is also considering 'toll free' data plans, which exclude certain types of content from a subscriber's monthly data allowance.
Verizon's CTO Tony Melone told a CTIA panel debate that he was considering toll free data plans, where content providers would pay carriers for the data access charges users would incur while accessing their content. "As we move away from flat rate pricing, there is room for an 1-800-type of service where certain destinations could offset the cost of the network to get customers to those destinations," he said. He claimed there was already interest from some potential partners, though did not offer details. "Net neutrality issues aside, there are still many things that have to happen to make it reality," he said. "But do I think it will happen? There's a better than 50-50 chance it will. I'll say 51-49."
Similar ideas are in play at T-Mobile USA, according to executives talking at CTIA Wireless in New Orleans. Brad Duea, SVP of value added services at the cellco, told The Wall Street Journal that it might offer certain plans in which "we actually could include special channels and not count the data", which would then encourage subscribers to use more data.
This echoes comments made earlier this year by AT&T's EVP of technology, John Donovan, who said the operator might allow developers to pay the operator directly for some of the data used by their app customers. He also likened such an approach to the 'toll free number' scheme.
Duea added that TMo was working on a video channel for smartphone users which would carry T-Mobile adverts and device tips. The cost of the data could be paid for by the content providers, advertising sponsors or by the cellco itself, he indicated.
The operators' ability to pursue such strategies may be limited by eventual decisions on net neutrality rules for wireless carriers. Under rules recently approved by the FCC, cellcos are barred from blocking over-the-top services which compete with their own voice and video offerings, but have greater freedom than wireline providers to bark certain types of traffic and apps. Those rules are being challenged in court by Verizon and MetroPCS.