AT&T Plans To Give Users A Free Ride But Only For Certain Content

AT&T "toll free" plans will provide free access to some online content

Unlimited data plans are becoming scarce options for smartphone and tablet users. Sprint remains the only carrier to offer an unlimited data plans. Most Verizon and AT&T customers, however, need to make do with tiered data plans. Tiered data plans get more cash from customers and deter customers from overloading mobile networks with excessive data use.

As a result, a lot of us try to avoid excessive data use by limiting the types and amount of content that we access when using a device’s 3G or LTE connection. That, in turn, blocks many content companies from capturing ad or subscription revenue from mobile users. That reality is leading major content companies to complain to the carriers and which AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson recently said may lead to “toll free” data plans.

Speaking on Friday at the Sanford Bernstein Strategic Decisions conference, Stephenson pointed out that many content companies are willing to pay AT&T and other carriers to deliver content to customers that doesn’t get charged to their data plan.

That means that streaming certain sitcoms, sporting events, or other content won’t push you closer to your data cap. Similarly using specific Internet services like Facebook or Google+ (or even Google’s full range of services) could be made “toll free” and encourage significant mobile market share to a handful of companies as a result. The model could even be made app-specific with certain Android or iOS apps getting a free ride. That could change some app buying dynamics and deliver more users to large app development firms rather than individual or part-time developers.

AT&T is expecting to roll out these new plans alongside its existing tiered plans within the next year. Verizon and T-Mobile have said that they’re considering such options but haven’t made any announcements.