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.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.