A consumer-friendly AT&T? Not exactly.

A consumer-friendly AT&T? Not exactly.

AT&T has a new scheme to wring more money out of its network.

Ugh. Maybe you’ve heard, AT&T has a new scheme to wring more money out of its network.

It’s new “1-800-DATA” proposal would allow big content providers — like movie studios or app developers — to pay the cost of sending data over its network. So customers can download the latest trailer or app without worrying about fees for overrunning their data caps.

Toll free data. Sounds like a boon to consumers, right? More like the thin end of the wedge. AT&T will tell you that they aren’t charging content providers for priority access. So this won’t allow a company like Hulu to pay AT&T to slow down Netflix – yet.

But it’s clear what Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AT&T want: to place the most popular sites like Facebook and Twitter behind costly pay tiers.

This violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the FCC’s Open Internet (“net neutrality”) Order. And it sets a scary precedent, making the next step towards paid-prioritization that much easier for Big Telecom.

So what to do? No matter how the court decides Verizon’s net neutrality challenge, the FCC should write strong rules to prevent schemes like this and protect consumers.

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