AT&T Unveils Sponsored Data

Last November, I barely managed to stay within my data limit: roughly halfway through, Verizon sent me a message saying that I had already reached 90% of my alloted bandwidth. Given that I had just recently decided to stream all of my music with iTunes Match rather than sync more than a thousand songs to a newly replaced iPhone, it should have come as no surprise. For the following two weeks I carefully metered my 3G usage, doing far less on my phone than usual; nevertheless, I soon hit 95% and, wanting to avoid an overage charge, stopped opening even images on Twitter off of WiFi. Thankfully, my billing cycle ended soon after that and I could start with a clean, music streaming-free slate.

That disconcerting, unfamiliar lack of freedom in today’s world where mediocre-speed cellular data connections have effectively removed the boundaries of location to consuming and producing content took away — albeit briefly — from my iPhone experience. For a while, I could use this mobile computer for nothing more than I would a prepaid phone; I did not buy an iPhone for such a use case. Unlike Nilay Patel, then, who sees AT&T’s Sponsored Data program as an evil to fight tooth and nail until it eventually, inevitably, becomes a reality, I see it — just as Shawn Blanc does — as one more way Apple and other large tech companies can improve their users’ experience: perhaps Apple will subsidize music streaming costs for iTunes Match subscribers. If that means an extra $5, $10, or $15 a year over the paltry $20 I pay now, I am absolutely fine with that.

On the topic of AT&T, before closing I would like to briefly note that while everyone seems to focus on Verizon when it comes to large American cellphone networks, the greatest innovations in this industry — think the first-generation iPhone — started with AT&T. Perhaps because of where I live or the circles I travel in I see and hear of Verizon disproportionately more when compared to other parts of the country, but regardless it seems like rather than Verizon we ought to look towards AT&T when trying to discern the future of the American mobile phone industry. Like the iPhone, Sponsored Date very well could revolutionize this market once again. Coming from AT&T, it’s off to a good start.