It’s taken a while but AT&T has now joined its rivals on the free mobile video bandwagon
AT&T is now offering free mobile video to DirecTV content via its mobile app and with no effect on the customer data cap (AT&T owns DirecTV). However, Netflix and other mobile video services will count against AT&T data caps unless they sign a sponsored data agreement with AT&T.
AT&T purchased DirecTV in July 2015 and today introduced an update to the DirecTV iPhone app to offer free mobile video. “Now you can stream DirecTV on your devices, anywhere—without using your data. The app’s update notes say under the heading “Data Free TV.” This feature requires subscriptions to DirecTV and AT&T wireless data services.
- In the fine print there are some caveats – “Exclusions apply & may incur data usage.”
- The service is also “Subject to network management, including speed reduction.”
The promotion for iPhone and iPad subscribers also lets customers download shows from their home DVR to mobile devices. The DirecTV apps for Android has not yet received the add-on.
Customers must view the content through the application in order to not have the streamed content apply to their data allotment; be subscribed to a DirecTV “Select” package or higher with at least a Genie HD DVR 44 device; and a home broadband connection.
Data cap exemptions—also known as zero-rating—are controversial and are being reviewed by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC’s net neutrality rules prevent ISPs and mobile carriers from speeding up online services in exchange for payment, but they don’t include a specific ban on zero-rating. Instead, the net neutrality regime has the FCC review zero-rating on a case-by-case basis to determine whether specific implementations harm customers or competitors.
When granting AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV, the FCC barred AT&T from exempting its own online video services from home Internet data caps that are applied to competitors. AT&T argued against the condition, which does not apply to mobile Internet data caps.
While DirecTV will no longer count against AT&T data caps, Netflix and other video services will still use up customers’ data allotments. AT&T started charging businesses for data cap exemptions in January 2014 with the sponsored data program.
The FCC began reviewing zero-rating implementations from Comcast, AT&T, and T-Mobile in December 2015, but it hasn’t yet made any decisions. Since that review began, Verizon Wireless started exempting its own video service from data caps, while counting data from competitors such as YouTube and Netflix against customers’ caps.
Even before, AT&T was getting creative with data caps since purchasing DirecTV, with promotions that encourage customers to subscribe to pay-TV service. AT&T’s unlimited smartphone data plan is only available to people who also subscribe to DirecTV or U-verse TV. (There are still cheaper plans with data caps, which will benefit from the DirecTV zero-rating).
AT&T also provides unlimited home Internet data to customers who bundle AT&T Internet with TV while imposing data caps on other home Internet subscribers. This effectively makes it harder for subscribers to go Internet-only and watch online streaming services instead of cable or satellite TV. Internet-only subscribers have to pay an extra $30 a month for unlimited data on their AT&T home Internet connections.
From the DirecTV perspective, they are apparently “paying” AT&T to participate in the sponsored data program, though this is simply money being transferred from a subsidiary to its owner. “Unaffiliated third parties are free to participate in that program as well,” AT&T said. “Our sponsored data program is available to any interested content provider.”
AT&T more recently announced plans to launch a trio of new video platforms, including a carrier-agnostic mobile offering. AT&T said the plans will include DirecTV Mobile, DirecTV Now and DirecTV Preview, all of which are set to launch later this year. The platforms are said to come with a “set number of simultaneous sessions” and will not require a service contract, satellite dish or set-top box.
Free Mobile Video is also offered by Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile US and Sprint. Verizon Wireless Go90 is free and T-Mobile US offers Free Mobile Video on the Binge On platform.