Are Net Neutrality Advocates Really Looking Out for Consumers?

T-Mobile recently announced a new program called Music Freedom. The program allows their customers to stream music from a variety of streaming music services, including ones like Spotify, Slacker, Pandora and others, that wouldn’t count towards customer data caps. This announcement follows in step with other wireless carriers like AT&T, who previously announced their Sponsored Data program, which allows brands to bypass the consumer data cap to deliver them content, free of charge and not counting against their data meter. ESPN has also been in talks with several wireless providers about paying for their viewers streaming costs to access their service.

Of course, with any arrangement like this, there will always be a chorus of net neutrality proponents that cry foul.  Groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press are fervently against these arrangements, saying they violate the spirit of net neutrality by treating some data different than others. It’s not as if non-paying content creators are being throttled—consumers are able to access content they want, when they want it, at the speeds they pay for. And now, they’re getting a great deal on even more content—certainly a win for consumers.

So why is it that so-called consumer groups like Public Knowledge claim to be the arbiters of what’s good for the consumer? Perhaps they should let consumers decide if this is a good deal for them. It seems that many groups claiming to advocate for the consumer actually fear the consumer having a choice—instead, they’d like to decide for the consumer what is and isn’t good for them.

Ultimately, though, these sponsored data plans and passes are great for the consumer. Consumers win when they get increased access to the content they love, without having to drain their data plan or incur overages. They’re free to use their data plans on other services—checking email or surfing the web. The costs are passed onto large corporations, who are more than happy to foot the bill to provide consumers with their content.

This arrangement certainly isn’t harming content creators, who are glad to have access to the consumers at no cost to the consumer. There’s very little difference between content providers subsidizing data plans to provide cheap access to consumers and content providers providing free television subsidized by television commercials.

Expanding consumer choice and driving down costs should be main agendas of any organization that claims to be acting on behalf of the consumer—and these new sponsored data plans being rolled out to consumers are a great example of both.

Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research organization.  For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.

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