Verizon today announced a new sponsored data program it is calling FreeBee, which will let brands and content makers provide video and other content to Verizon users without it counting against the users' data allowance. There are two versions of the FreeBee program — FreeBee 360 and FreeBee Data — but the differences between them amount to how they are billed to the content providers and the net result is the same for Verizon users.
AT&T launched its own sponsored data program, called Data Perks, a couple of years ago, though it has yet to make it widespread and has only signed up a handful of partners for it. In a press release announcing FreeBee, Verizon says that it will be available in a beta form starting today, with a greater rollout later this year. Brands that have already signed up for it include AOL (unsurprising, given that Verizon owns AOL), Hearst Magazines, and Gameday, which will provide sponsored content to 1,000 test subscribers.
For Verizon customers, content that is part of the FreeBee program will have a literal "bee" icon on it, denoting that it will not count against their monthly data allotment. Brands will be able to sponsor some or all of the data used by their apps or websites.
Sponsored data plans have drawn ire from net neutrality advocates because they give undue leverage to content makers and brands, allowing them to decide which data on the internet is more important than others. While they may seem like a benefit for consumers, it gives more control to the carriers, who have proven time and again that their interests are not aligned with consumers, but with the businesses that pad their profit margins. Unfortunately, the FCC has yet to take any measures to stop sponsored data programs, aside from a few inquiries, so they're here to stay for now.