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In net neutrality violation, HBO Max to be zero rated on AT&T in the US: Report

In a net neutrality violation, AT&T will not count HBO Max against wireless internet users’ data caps, The Verge reported. A company executive told The Verge that the HBO’s streaming service, which AT&T owns, will be a part of the Sponsored Data program, where content providers pay on users’ behalf when the latter consume data from partnered content providers. We have reached out to AT&T for comment.

Since AT&T is essentially sponsoring its own data, this creates an unlevel playing field between HBO Max and other streaming services. Given that the US’s wireless internet is among the world’s costliest, exemptions to data caps can be a significant advantage for content providers. That competitive problem becomes more worrying when the content provider in question is owned by the carrier.

In the US, while net neutrality laws were revoked under the Trump administration, zero rating was never illegal, and a review into those practices initiated under the previous FCC administration was halted in 2017. This gives companies like AT&T and T-Mobile (whose Binge-On program allows content providers to have their data exempted from caps) free rein to choose whose services can be more attractive to customers on account of costing nothing.

AT&T also throttles some video by default for mobile data users, reducing video quality to 480p, under what it calls the Stream Saver program. This program is opt-out, so users have to contact the carrier to disable it.

  • TikTok joins T-Mobile’s BingeOn: Sometime before 15 February, TikTok joined T-Mobile’s BingeOn program, allowing the app to bypass users’ data caps.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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