Earlier than many expected - an app update today revealed that Verizon has decided to test the limits of the FCC's network neutrality rules by making its own go90 video video service free to stream over LTE - without burning any data.
This of course gives the otherwise unremarkable go90 app a huge competitive advantage over other streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix, or HBO - exactly the sort of potentially unfair advantage that the network neutrality rules were designed to prevent.
Verizon Claims It Is Playing Fair
Verizon explained to Re/code today that exempting go90 from data usage is completely fair, since go90 is an independent subsidiary company taking advantage of Verizon's new FreeBee sponsored data program in a way that other companies also could:
“Go90 has decided to take advantage of Verizon’s FreeBee Data 360 service, which allows them to pay for customer’s data usage associated with watching videos on the Go90 app. FreeBee Data 360 is an open, non-exclusive service available to other content providers on a non-discriminatory basis. Any interested content provider can use FreeBee Data 360 to expand their audiences by giving consumers the opportunity to enjoy their content without incurring data charges.”
Verizon is of course willing to pay itself to stream go90, and the go90 advertisers will eventually be the ones footing the bill.
But other video streaming services will be extremely reluctant to divert the bulk of their own advertising or subscription revenue into Verizon's pockets - especially services like Netflix that are not advertising supported and which do not place limits on how much content you can stream in a month.
Is go90 Worth a Look?
Now that go90 is free to stream, it seems that Verizon has discontinued the promotion offering Verizon customers 2GB/mo to sign up and try it out.
But if you are curious about go90 - it doesn't cost you anything to take a look. You don't even need to be a Verizon customer to sign up - you just need an iOS or Android device to install the go90 app onto.
Verizon has been investing a ton in acquiring exclusive high-brow content such as Snooki & JWoww: Moms With Attitude, Fail Army, Swamptalk With Shrek, and a whole lot more - including live concerts and even some NBA games.
If you dig deep enough - just about anyone can find something interesting to watch - if you can stomach the advertising. I even found a full length episode of Myth Busters to enjoy, and have been streaming a Fall Out Boy (Live In San Francisco) concert while writing this news story.
The video quality has been impressive.
But there is one ridiculous limitation that Verizon has chosen to place on go90 - you MUST watch the content on a smartphone or tablet.
go90 shows can NOT be watched in a browser on a computer, and for some incredibly obnoxious reason Verizon has even gone so far as to actively block using an HDMI-output cable or mirroring your screen via Airplay or Chromecast to display go90 shows on a big screen.
Who thought this was a good idea?!?!
If you want to give go90 a shot, you can download the app and sign up for an account here: www.go90.com
This Is A Dangerous Slippery Slope
In the short term, go90 going free to stream is great news for entertainment starved Verizon customers stuck on limited data plans.
But in the long run, this may be the start down a very dangerous slippery slope.
T-Mobile has been taking a lot of network neutrality heat for its Binge On service - which allows for unlimited video streaming from 40+ sites (including go90, in a dig against Verizon) without it counting against your data limits.
But unlike Verizon's FreeBee program where a sponsor is footing the bill, with T-Mobile no money is changing hands, and companies are not paying to participate. Theoretically, any site can sign up to be part of T-Mobile's service.
Verizon on the other hand is setting up a world where it is literally "pay to play" - and AT&T has indicated that it is looking to roll out a similar sponsored mobile video service of its own too.
If the FCC does not intervene and enough customers and content providers do embrace the FreeBee-style sponsored data model, Verizon will have very little incentive to ever lower the per-GB cost charged to customers for monthly data plans.
After all - the more expensive data is, the more likely customers will be compelled to seek out toll free alternatives.
This is the sort of dark future that network neutrality rules were designed to prevent.
But at least we'll all be able to watch Snooki & JWoww.