Verizon today announced a sponsored data program called "FreeBee Data" that will allow for participating companies to sponsor websites, apps, downloads, and video clips.
Think of it like a toll free 1-800 number for the mobile web - if you see a site or a link tagged with Verizon's FreeBee logo, your usage will be paid for by the sponsor - and it will not count against your monthly data limits.
In other words - FreeBee is perfect for taking the sting out of watching a barrage of video advertisements attached to everything you do online...
Or as Verizon likes to put it - FreeBee is ideal to "Maximize your mobile marketing ROI!"
Verizon will be charging FreeBee Data sponsors "per click" for video clips up to 30 seconds, audio streams up to 30 minutes long, or for individual app downloads.
Or the FreeBee Data 360 plan lets participants choose to sponsor entire websites or apps, in which case the sponsor will be paying per gigabyte instead of the data coming out of the Verizon customer's monthly data plan.
FreeBee Data 360 is available to interested companies in a beta fashion starting today, and the beta per-click service will roll out next week on January 25th.
Initial beta participants include Hearst Magazines, AOL (owned by Verizon), and a few others - so start expecting the FreeBee to begin making appearances as you surf those sites soon. In the next few months, Verizon's own go90 video service is expected to roll out with FreeBee support - allowing advertisers to cover the cost of watching shows while on the go.
Broader non-beta FreeBee availability is expected by the end of 2016, as Verizon pushes to make FreeBee as widely accepted (and even expected) as 1-800 numbers used to be.
Pushing the Boundaries of Network Neutrality
Verizon isn't the first mobile company to support sponsored data - AT&T has been experimenting with a similar offerings since early 2014 but has not pushed the concept very hard since it has been unclear whether or not the practice may bump against the FCC's Network Neutrality rules that prohibit networks from "playing favorites" by treating some content more favorably than others.
With Verizon now also embracing the sponsored data concept (and thus making it arguably an "industry standard" practice) - we expect AT&T to put more effort into pushing sponsored data too.
T-Mobile has been taking a lot of network neutrality heat for its Binge On service - which allows for unlimited video streaming for free from partner sites. But unlike AT&T or Verizon's offerings, no money is changing hands and companies are not paying to participate. Any site (even porn) can sign up to be part of T-Mobile's service.
In our opinion - T-Mobile's open stance is much more consumer friendly, while the direction AT&T and Verizon are headed is instead designed to appeal to the advertisers with the biggest budgets.
Either way - the FCC has indicated that they will be keeping a close eye on how these free data plans continue to evolve.