This morning Verizon took the wrappers off a beta of a new sponsored data offering, and it looks quite intriguing. Called FreeBee Data, the idea is to let any content provider sponsor the downloading or streaming of particular items (or all of them) for consumers by the click with pricing by the gigabyte.
I'm not the best friend of either side of the network neutrality debate, but at least at the surface it seems like this formulation of the sponsored data concept might have legs. Rather than do individual deals with individual, large content players, Verizon is apparently looking to create an ecosystem that can scale small or large. Properly tuned, it could potentially alleviate the concerns that innovation by startups would be stifled by established players having access to fast lanes via special relationships and such.
That could mean that Verizon has found a way to have revenues generated by big content help fund the capex associated with the last mile that doesn't involve an arbitrary toll booth or throttling or such. We'll just have to see whether or not it works out that way of course, and there are obvious pitfalls to avoid. For instance, off the top of my head I'd guess they will have to have some sort of automated tagging system for data that is sponsored that is configured on the content side. I'd be shocked if hackers didn't try to spoof that somehow.
But if Verizon can work out the details, such a concept could be the first piece of the holy grail that finally ends the net neutrality wars, or at least shifts them downstream to somewhere less intractable than they are now.
Initial brands signed up to trial are Hearst Magazines, AOL, and GAMEDAY, which will sponsor some content for 1,000 test subscribers.