Prepaid wireless customers on AT&T’s plans are apparently getting a pleasant surprise in the form of a free text message informing them that their plan is now included in the carrier’s sponsored data program. As outlined in that text, that means customers can now stream video content via AT&T’s DirecTV, U-verse TV, and Fullscreen without burning through any of their allotted monthly data limit. That’s good news for AT&T users who subscribe to other AT&T services, though the company’s TV app needs to be used in order for users to take advantage of the program. However, no signup is required since customers who are eligible will be automatically signed up and should see the associated text message sooner rather than later – if they haven’t already. As of this writing, the only exclusions to the program’s extension appear to be users in Peurto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands.
With regard to the reasoning behind AT&T’s decision to include prepaid users in the program, the company has not officially said. It’s likely that the primary driving force behind the expansion is the introduction of similar programs from other mobile service providers such as Verizon – which launched its FreeBee Data program in early 2016. It isn’t unreasonable to assume that the expansion would represent an effort by AT&T to capitalize on its head start and differentiate itself from main competitors in the market.
With that said, the decision is not going to pass without a measure of controversy. These types of programs had repeatedly come under fire prior when enacted because of their apparent flouting of the recently repealed net neutrality rules. By only including services that the company already owns, AT&T is able to offer a benefit solely to customers that subscribe to those services. As a result, the offered benefits could feasibly drive more AT&T customers away from competing services. Customers who don’t switch are arguably getting the short end of the stick since they need to pay more if they want access to similar amounts of data. That’s bound to give companies such as Google and Netflix a leg to stand on as they push to see net neutrality reinstated.