Just as expected, Verizon has officially unveiled its new sponsored data program, FreeBee Data. With FreeBee Data, content providers and businesses will be able to provide consumers some or all of their mobile content, whether in an application or mobile website, without having the data count against consumers’ data plans. Verizon will place a little bee icon next to sponsored content, which signifies that the content has already been paid for. This will hopefully, in Verizon’s eyes, drive more engagement to these particular web pages and links.
Verizon is introducing two models of the sponsored data program – FreeBee Data 360, which lets partners pay for a portion or all of a user’s mobile data consumption when on a particular page, or a separate FreeBee Data offering, which allows providers to sponsor specific parts of a webpage such as video clips, audio streaming and more. FreeBee Data 360 is available on a beta basis starting today, and interested providers will be able to sponsor content for all of Verizon’s post-paid customers. January 25th marks the day that Verizon begins beta testing the separate FreeBee Data offering.
Partners are pretty limited so far. Hearst Magazines, AOL and GAMEDAY have signed up for FreeBee Data, and no others were listed in the press release.
Now that we have the details out of the way, we should talk about the morality of Verizon’s behavior. When it comes to Net Neutrality Verizon has done little to ensure its customers can take part in an open, free internet, and it’s clear now that the carrier is taking the next step in the wrong direction. With the new sponsored data program content providers will be able to pay their way into getting more clicks from Verizon customers. It’s fine if partners want to do that, but the potential for this program to go awry is exceptional. As of now, Verizon is marketing this program as an equal opportunity for all providers to pay for users’ data plans. But
if when the carrier starts taking money from providers who’d like consumers to see their content first, that’s when things get a little more muddy. Smaller businesses won’t be able to pay to get their content seen by users first when going up against larger companies, and this serves as an obvious problem.
What are your thoughts? Do you think this could be the start of a big Net Neutrality problem? Or do you see nothing wrong with Verizon’s new sponsored data initiative? Let us know what you think in the comments.