AT&T has revealed plans to launch a new service that would give mobile app developers the option of paying for the mobile data used by their app subscribers. Although this sounds ludicrous, AT&T's network and technology head John Donovan likened it to offering a 1-800 Toll-Free option for apps, where developers could motivate users to download and use their apps if the data involved in using the apps didn't count towards the users' data plan limits.
"A feature that we're hoping to have out sometime next year is the equivalent of 800 numbers that would say, if you take this app, this app will come without any network usage," revealed Donovan during an interview with The Wall Street Journal. For instance, if a user is tight on data, they may be more motivated to download a movie or some other digital content from an app if they know that it won't go towards their monthly data.
Donovan may be explaining the system in simple benign terms, but if implemented, it could have a drastic affect on both large app makers like Facebook, Spotify, and Netflix as well as on small developers wanting to develop bandwidth-heavy apps. With data plans becoming ever more limited, added overage penalty fees could drive customers wanting to avoid paying extra to seek out these "toll-free" apps.
Once users become accustomed to seeking apps that have free bandwidth, this could force more app makers to adopt the service, driving up the cost of developing and pushing forth mobile apps. This would give AT&T a nice double-sided fee model that would help drive up revenue from data charges without increasing subscriber bills.