Sign me up for 'Sponsored Data'

I would dump DSL tomorrow and switch the family to cellular data, if not for cost. Downstream wireless is faster than my home Internet and would always be there -- wherever the phone goes; use it as personal hotspot for PC or tablet. But pesky, expensive data caps hold me back.

So I'm intrigued by one of the oddest and most provocative announcements coming on Consumer Electronics Show 2014 Day 0: AT&T "Sponsored Data". The carrier turns around the Net Neutrality debate by encouraging data gluttons to pay up so that cellular customers can consume more while paying less. It's a novel concept, and I like it. Netflix, this is for you, baby. You might resist, but I'll love you forever if you sponsor me. Surely, I'm not alone.

Isn't it sensible for app and service providers to share some of the data cost, but passed on directly to you? Would you really use that insecure, public WiFi hotspot if you could stream movie or music over your safer cellular data connection?

Some people will argue that AT&T is just profitmongering, looking for ways to take money from Peter to pay Paul. Perhaps, a little. But should data-glutton services get a free ride forever? Should cellular carriers cap network growth and individual data usage because costs are too high, while bearing bandwidth burden select services demand?

If Netflix streaming suddenly was free tomorrow -- not licking a bandwidth bit -- I would prefer the service over others and likely use it more. Cellular data fee stays the same, or even reduces. What's not to like about that?

But I wonder if AT&T can realistically get the Amazons, Googles, and Netflixes to pay up. My gut says "Sponsored Data" could be doomed to failure. But it's in the best interests of their customers to see carrier networks expand and for the services to be consumed anytime, anywhere, on anything.

AT&T would be wrong to level the gun to providers' heads by penalizing services that glutton data, either by threat to throttle or by doing so. Then AT&T customers would suffer, and that's bad business practice for everyone. The challenge will be sticking to this Net Neutrality alternative, by in part evangelizing existing and potential customers (I'm on T-Mobile) about the benefits to them. I don't care who pays, as long as it's not me. If Netflix charged an extra buck a month for free streaming over AT&T, that's a lot less than what the carrier would rake my bank account for.

Everyone wants unlimited data. Carriers charge way too much for what they give us. While I see it as profiteering, there also is realistic concern that infrastructure is inadequate to let everyone consume freely. Data caps provide an unseen service, then, much as I really resist admitting so. So let providers pay; let cellular data users selectively consume some services excessively; and let carriers reinvest some of the newfound profits into network expansion.

Yes, I would consider switching back to AT&T, if "Sponsored Data" turns out to work something like outlined above, or even better.

Photo Credit: Violet Kaipa / Shutterstock

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