How AT&T defends its free data policy to skeptical regulators

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Parent company AT&T is defending a feature with DirecTV before regulators who said in Nov that they harbor “serious concerns” about the practice, in a fight over how consumers get to experience video on their mobile devices. The program allows consumers to watch as much DirecTV as they want on their AT&T cellphone plans without that consumption eating into customers' monthly data allotments. The exemptions, which AT&T will also apply to its new streaming video app, DirecTV Now, are perfectly good for consumers, the company said in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Consumers have enthusiastically embraced Data Free TV,” the letter reads. (AT&T owns DirecTV.) As AT&T uses Data Free TV to promote its proprietary services to consumers, other companies could be harmed by the move, critics have said. For example, if Netflix refused to play on AT&T's terms, consumers who watched “Orange is the New Black” on AT&T's data network could find that they were depleting their available data. This would lead to DirecTV having an advantage over Netflix. And the gap would become even more pronounced for smaller media and Internet companies, skeptics say. In its letter, AT&T responded to those claims by arguing that its practice of exempting DirecTV is good for consumers and that it doesn't exclusively benefit its own bottom line. “AT&T makes its sponsored data program available to all content providers on the same terms and conditions,” the letter said. “In fact, AT&T went further in meeting the nondiscrimination requirement than traditional law would require.”

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