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AT&T to let content providers pick up bandwidth tab with new 'sponsored data' service

Customers on AT&T's 4G network will soon be able to take advantage of a new program that shifts the burden of paying for some mobile data usage from users to content providers.

AT&T Sponsored Data

Ma Bell's new Sponsored Data service is designed to allow companies that distribute content to mobile devices to subsidize the cost of mobile data usage associated with that content, letting customers browse the web or watch videos without depleting their monthly data allotment.

AT&T envisions companies sponsoring new app downloads, movie trailer streams, video-based healthcare programs, and e-commerce sessions as well as more utilitarian applications like bifurcation of business and personal data usage for businesses implementing bring-your-own-device policies. The Dallas, TX company says the product is designed to be transparent for users, who simply need to look out for content marked with a Sponsored Data badge.

The program is "a win-win for customers and businesses— customers just look for the Sponsored Data icon and they know the data related to that particular application or video is provided as a part of their monthly service," AT&T Mobility chief Ralph de la Vega said.

In an apparent nod to those concerned with the ongoing net neutrality debate, AT&T promises that there will be no difference in network performance between sponsored and unsponsored data. The company has been embroiled in controversy for its approach to equal network access regulations, including a spat over its decision to block Apple's FaceTime service from operating over the cellular network, a choice the carrier later reversed.

All postpaid AT&T customers with 4G LTE or HSPA+ smartphones, tablets, mobile hotspots, or laptop modems will be eligible to join the Sponsored Data program at launch. DataConnect Pass session-based customers are also included, though other prepaid plans will not be granted access.