Recently, a wireless provider announced that they will begin a new program allowing websites to pay for their users’ data consumption, rather than it being charged against a customer’s data plan. According to the plan, an AT&T customer surfing the web on their AT&T iPhone and visiting a participating website or app would not be counted for any of their data consumption while browsing that site. AT&T compared this new arrangement as similar to 1-800 numbers, where the person receiving the call pays for the charges. This new move would allow Internet publishers to create sponsored sites or encourage users to try out new applications or services, the same way another company might offer free shipping, as AT&T explains.

Currently, consumers could incur significant costs if they’re heavy data users. Those who stream music or movies could, at times, exceed their standard data plans, making it more expensive to view video heavy sites. On the other side of the equation, as more web viewing goes mobile, content creators are faced with a consumer base weary of wasting their valuable data plan on data-rich content, which is often the most lucrative in terms of ad dollars and could contain some of the more well-produced media that content creators have to offer. Now, creators are faced with an alternative to the current scenario, one in which consumers potentially don’t have to make that decision, and content creators can make sure their best content is viewed without impunity.

Last year, ESPN was reportedly already looking into this. ESPN knew that as data caps continue to be imposed by wireless carriers, consumers are more and more wary of using their valuable broadband on data-heavy sites that might include video from ESPN. The solution for ESPN, and other publishers and content providers, might be to make sure their consumers don’t have to foot the bill—making their advertisers happy with more eyeballs on their content, and making their users happy for with cost-free information and entertainment.

Some people, though, are unhappy with these new developments. Groups such as Free Press are upset, claiming that consumers lose in this situation. The complaint is that there’s no benefit to the consumer—they’re not getting any money back from AT&T, so it’s simply double charging for the same content.

But that’s not really the case—consumers are now free to use that data somewhere else that they would have used on these “sponsored” sites and apps. No one is paying for content twice.

Consumers win with this arrangement. There’s no tempering of data, no monitoring of content, no slowing throttling of one site over another—nothing that would make an arrangement like this unappealing. It’s a benefit to the consumer to be able to access content without having to worry about exceeding limits on their data plan. And it’s a benefit to the content creator and advertiser, knowing they’ve just incentivized users to visit and view their content.

This sort of creative service enhancement gives consumers more without costing more.  It’s welcome news.

Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research.  For more information about the Institute, visit