AT&T to sell toll-free service for wireless data

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AT&T Inc., the country’s second-largest wireless carrier, announced Monday that it’s setting up a “1-800” service for wireless data. Websites that pay for the service will be toll-free for AT&T’s wireless customers, meaning the traffic won’t count against a surfer’s monthly allotment of data.

It’s the first major cellphone company to create a comprehensive service for sponsored wireless access in the U.S. The move is likely to face considerable opposition from public-interest groups that fear the service could discourage consumers from exploring new sites that can’t afford to pay communications carriers for traffic.

AT&T is trying to forestall critics by announcing that one of its first customers for the service is a startup: Aquto, which has an app that rewards users with extra data if they watch ads or download specific apps.

Another company that will use the service when it launches in the first quarter is health insurance company UnitedHealth Group Inc.

Dallas-based AT&T made the announcement at its software developer conference in Las Vegas, a day before the opening of the mammoth International CES consumer electronics show.

GoSmart Mobile, a sub-brand of No. 4 carrier T-Mobile US Inc., announced two weeks ago that Facebook traffic will be free for its subscribers, since the site is paying for it.

AT&T’s announcement is much broader — the company is inviting all Web companies to use its “1-800” service, and the free access will apply to all its subscribers. At the end of September, AT&T had 51 million smartphone subscribers on contract-based plans, and a few million more on prepaid plans.

via The Associated Press

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