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Verizon joins AT&T in launching sponsored data access, raises net neutrality concerns

Verizon on Tuesday officially announced FreeBee Data, a service that will let businesses sponsor data access so subscribers can load some apps, websites, or downloads without it impacting their monthly limits.

Two versions will be available, the basic one covering data on a per-click basis, Verizon said on Tuesday. A movie studio, for instance, might sponsor access to a movie trailer, or a local business might sponsor an app download. FreeBee icons should appear next to such material.

FreeBee Data 360 however will operate on a per-gigabyte model, making it suitable for a sponsoring an entire app or website. As of today, 360 is in fact already available to businesses in beta form —the per-click option will only enter a beta trial on Jan. 25 with partners like Hearst and Verizon's own AOL.

Full commercial availability for the per-click option should happen later in 2016.

FreeBee is similar to AT&T's Sponsored Data, which likewise allows companies to buy their way around customers' data caps.

Both services could potentially run afoul of the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, which mandate that all Internet traffic be treated equally. Businesses that can't afford to sponsor data could seen as having an unfair handicap.

The FCC is in fact already probing AT&T, as well as Comcast's Stream TV and T-Mobile's Binge On.