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Verizon to Start Testing 'Toll-Free' Data in Coming Days

So-called sponsored data plans have the potential for cutting customers' bills, but have drawn ire from some Net Neutrality advocates.


Verizon plans in the next few days to start testing so-called sponsored data, the equivalent of toll-free calling for the Internet age.

“The capabilities we’ve built allow us to break down any byte that is carried across our network and have all or a portion of that sponsored,” Verizon Executive VP Marni Walden said during a wide-ranging interview this week.

Sponsored data, as the name implies, allows consumers to access certain content without having to eat into their own data plans. Instead, a third party pays for it.

Verizon is working with just a few partners in the testing phase, but said next year this feature will be available to all comers at an affordable rate.

“We’ll be out in a larger commercial way in the first quarter of 2016,” Walden said.

AT&T has been working on a similar product for a couple years now, but it remains in limited testing. In October, AT&T “data perks” program in which customers can get up to 1GB of additional data added to their account by viewing offers or signing up for various trials.

Toll-free calling has been around for decades, so why not do the same for data? While some see sponsored data as a proverbial win-win for companies and customers, others say it interferes with the notion of a level playing field as bigger companies will be able to afford to pick up the tab for data use while smaller ones will not.

AT&T has also maintained that this is a billing issue, not a matter of prioritizing traffic for one service over another, which it says is the crux of net neutrality.

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