Before 2016 comes to an end, the apps on your smartphone may be paying for your wireless data usage. Verizon announced on Tuesday that it will start testing a program where companies can pay to sponsor a user’s data. Those sponsorships mean Verizon subscribers can use an app or certain parts of an app without that usage counting against their data cap.
The new program is called FreeBee Data 360 and currently comes in two flavors. FreeBee Data 360 lets a content provider, such as a news service, sponsor some or all of the mobile data a subscriber uses to access that content. The sponsorship can include a website, app, or both, with content providers paying by the gigabyte.
The story behind the story: Verizon’s plan is nothing new. In some ways, the company is catching up to its competitors. AT&T introduced a sponsored data plan two years ago at CES 2014. That program is still limited to just six sponsored data providers, almost all of whom are advertising companies or middlemen. T-Mobile doesn’t have a sponsored data plan, but the carrier’s Binge On program does offer free content streaming for many popular music and video services.
FreeBee Data 360 can show up on your phone as early as Tuesday. The new service is currently available in beta mode. Verizon didn’t mention whether any content providers were already signed up to offer free data.
Verizon’s second sponsored data program doesn’t have an official name other than the generic title FreeBee Data. It allows content providers, like our hypothetical news app, to pay for specific taps, such as a promotional video or app download. It’s easy to imagine a news service using this feature to push downloads of its app or a recording company offering a free look at the video of an artist’s latest single.
The pay-per-click offering is a little further off. Verizon plans to kick off a limited beta program with about 1,000 test subscribers starting on Monday, January 25. Companies already signed up to test pay-per-click include AOL, Gameday, and Hearst Magazines. Widespread availability of the second program will roll out later in 2016, but Verizon didn’t specify when.