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AT&T plan: Let content providers pay your bandwidth bill

Sounds good at first, but...

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AT&T is developing a plan that would allow mobile-application developers and content providers to pay for the wireless bandwidth required to use their apps or downlload their content.

"A feature that we're hoping to have out sometime next year is the equivalent of 800 numbers that would say, if you take this app, this app will come without any network usage," AT&T CTO told the The Wall Street Journal at the Mobile World Congress 2012 currently underway in Barcelona.

It's an intriguing idea, to say the least. Currently, mobile providers such as AT&T and Verizon charge their subscribers a stiff fee if they exceed their plan's data limits. Consequently, frugual mobile users who might otherwise be tempted to, say, download a movie might not do so if they believe the payload might pop them over their cap.

If the content provider were to pay for the download – like an 800-number owner pays for the call – users might be more likely to fork over the fee for the content, knowing that despite that outlay, their capped plan was safely below cap.

"It'd be like freight included," Donovan told the WSJ referring to the online-retaliing lagniappe that boosted internet sales during the recent holiday shopping-shipping season.

There are a lot of uncertainties to the concept – such as how billing might be arranged and if content, app, and service providers could offer "the first one's free" loss leaders – but it's likely that one upshot would be increased bandwidth use overall on already heavily laden wireless-provider systems.

Or, just possibly, maybe those systems aren't quite as overstressed as AT&T and others would like us to believe as they lobby the Federal Communications Commisssion for access to more precious bandwidth.

And if you'll permit us to break out our tinfoil hats for a moment, perhaps the widespread adoption of such a system might lead wireless carriers to lower their bandwidth caps, using the argument that content providers – only the ones who've signed onto the the plan, of course – are subsidizing a good chunk of your bandwidth.

Doing so would simultaneously squeeze smaller, more independent providers and shrink your data plan so much that you'd be forced to choose between using only "800 number" providers or upgrading to a more expensive plan in order to download unsubsidized data. ®

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